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E-RATE UPDATE: Federal Communications Commission to Double Federal Funding for High-Speed Internet in Schools; FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to Offer Details During Alliance’s Digital Learning Day Event

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“Just as the construction of the interstate highway system closed a distance divide in the United States by connecting individuals and making travel faster, high-speed broadband can bring today’s schools into the twenty-first century to do the same for the digital divide," said Gov. Bob Wise.

On February 3, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it will invest $2 billion over the next two years to support broadband networks in the nation’s and libraries. The investment, which will double the funding for adding high-speed internet connections in schools, is expected to provide 20 million students in at least 15,000 schools with high-speed internet access.

The FCC said the additional funding will come from “reprioritizing existing E-rate funds to focus on high-capacity internet connectivity, increasing efficiency, and modernizing management of the E-rate program.” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will elaborate on the plan to restructure E-rate at the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Digital Learning Day event on Wednesday, February 5 (Register for access to the live webstream). Chairman Wheeler’s remarks will come on the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union Address (see “In State of the Union Address, Obama Pushes High School Redesign and High-Speed Internet in Schools, Says He Will Move Agenda Forward With or Without Congress“) in which the president reiterated his goal to connect 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband over the next five years.

“As we consider long-term improvements to the [E-rate] program, we will take immediate steps to make existing funds go farther, significantly increasing our investment in high-speed internet to help connect millions of students to the digital age,” Wheeler said. “We will take a business-like approach to the management of the program, identifying opportunities to improve the ways funds are deployed and streamlining the process for schools and libraries.”

“When it comes to accessing the internet, many of the nation’s teachers and students are stuck on a two-lane road in a superhighway world,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Just as the construction of the interstate highway system closed a distance divide in the United States by connecting individuals and making travel faster, high-speed broadband can bring today’s schools into the twenty-first century to do the same for the digital divide.”

Since its inception, the E-rate program has played a vital role in connecting the nation’s schools and libraries. When the U.S. Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, only 14 percent of classrooms had internet connection and most schools with internet access used dial-up internet access. Thanks to the E-rate program, virtually every school in America today is connected to the internet, but more work remains. For example, slow download speeds and intermittent connections prevent teachers and students from accessing engaging content and rigorous course material.

“The needs of our schools have dramatically changed since E-rate began in 1996,” Wheeler wrote in a January 24 blog post at FCC.gov. “To be prepared for college and the twenty-first-century workforce, students today need to have access to state-of-the-art, interactive, educational content; and tools for student collaboration, student-teacher communication, and lesson planning. None of this will be possible if our students aren’t connected to networks capable of delivering that content and offering those tools.”

Spearheaded by the Alliance for Excellent Education, Digital Learning Day recognizes schools and school districts that use effective applications of education technology to support teachers, improve learning, and help students achieve at their highest potential.

As part of Digital Learning Day on February 5, the Alliance will host a national showcase that will be streamed live from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and moderated by Judy Woodruff, coanchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour, and in addition to FCC Chairman Wheeler, it will feature Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James H. Shelton III, U.S. Representative George Miller, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, Wyoming Department of Education Director Rich Crandall, and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery.

The national showcase will also feature educators and students from schools and school districts that are using technology to make a positive difference in student learning, including those in Talladega, Alabama; Beaverton, Oregon; Henry County, Georgia; Hillsborough, Florida; Albemarle County, Virginia; and West Windsor Township, New Jersey.

A new component of the national event this year will be a free virtual conference built onto INXPO’s next-generation webcasting platform. Through this system, educators, parents, students, and others across the United States and internationally can tune into the live webcast, participate in live chats with digital learning experts, and access on-demand instructional videos and toolkits. Individuals can sign up for the virtual conference at https://vts.inxpo.com/scripts/Server.nxp?LASCmd=AI:4;F:QS!10100&ShowKey=17940.

“In the two years since the Alliance’s inaugural Digital Learning Day, the many uses of technology to improve student learning outcomes in the nation’s schools have skyrocketed,” said Wise. “Still, there are schools and classrooms where students are asked to check their devices at the door. Digital Learning Day was created to provide all educators—from those who are technology averse to the technology rock stars—with the support and guidance they need to feel comfortable using different types of technology to improve learning in their classrooms.”

In addition to the national showcase, tens of thousands of teachers and millions of students from all fifty states and the District of Columbia will participate in thousands of state and local events, including the more than 1,500 local events that educators have added to the Digital Learning Day website. In conducting their events, educators will be tapping the interactive lesson plans and teaching toolkits available in several different subject areas, including English language arts, math, science, social studies, and more.

Visit DigitalLearningDay.org for additional information, including local events, teacher toolkits, and more.

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Digital Learning Day

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