Jason Amos (Alliance)
Betsy Barrett (LEAD Commission)
“The Internet is the textbook of the twenty-first century, without which the nation’s students cannot excel academically today, or compete economically in the future,” say coalition members.
WASHINGTON, DC – In advance of a key vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set for early July, a broad and diverse coalition of 106 organizations sent a letter with detailed recommendations to the FCC today, urging it to modernize and expand the E-rate program—the federal government’s program for connecting the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet.
“Technology has transformed nearly every facet of modern life, except for the way we educate today’s students—tomorrow’s leaders,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “No modern business expects to function without access to high-speed internet. So why should we expect it of our schools? The FCC must modernize and expand the E-rate program to provide at least 99 percent of America’s students with access to high-speed broadband in their schools and libraries within the next five years.”
“Updating the E-rate structure to connect schools and libraries to high-speed broadband is essential to our country’s prosperity,” said Jim Coulter, Co-Founder of TPG Capital and commissioner of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission. “For the United States to maintain its competitive edge in the global economy, America must invest in, and continually update its technology to best serve education purposes for our children’s future.”
The FCC administers the E-rate program, which provides discounts to schools and libraries on internet and telephone services. The successful program, which began in 1996, has helped to increase the percentage of America’s classrooms with internet access from 14 percent to 94 percent, but the program has not been updated to meet modern demands for high-speed connectivity. According to the FCC, half of E-rate applicants have slower internet connections than those in average American homes.
The letter represents the broadest and most diverse group to file with the FCC in this proceeding, demonstrating that there is a consensus for the FCC to act on the group’s recommended framework for action. The coalition signing the letter includes education organizations, technology advocates, businesses, foundations, civil rights organizations, community broadband organizations, libraries, and school districts. The signatories represent both rural and urban-based organizations as well as organizations from across the political spectrum.
In urging the FCC to modernize and expand E-rate, the coalition offers detailed recommendation for strengthening the program including the following:
- Focus E-rate not simply on connecting schools and libraries to the internet, but on increasing the capacity of internet connections, including Wi-Fi, so they can be used to implement effective digital learning practices.
- Prioritize high-capacity broadband and deploy ubiquitous wireless networks throughout the school and library so that the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s learners can be met.
- Provide incentives for schools and libraries to purchase high-speed broadband more efficiently, including those provided by consortia that are able to get more services at a lower cost.
- Simplify the program through common-sense reforms, such as eliminating paper-filing and allowing multi-year applications for recurring services.
In addition to reforming the E-rate program, the coalition urges the FCC to increase the funding for the program. “Most of us believe that substantially increased funding will be necessary to achieve the 99 in 5 goal,” the letter reads. “These reforms lay the foundation for the permanent increase in the program’s funding that we believe will be necessary to connect at least 99 percent of the nation’s students to high-capacity broadband within the next five years. Of course, we acknowledge that the funding increase must be guided by fiscal discipline and the knowledge that average consumers are responsible for funding this vital national policy.”
The coalition letter is available at https://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/6-14FinalErateConsensusLetter.pdf.
About the Alliance for Excellent Education
The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship. www.all4ed.org
About the LEAD Commission
Answering a challenge from the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Education, the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission was established to determine how technology can help transform education in America. The Commission is cochaired by Lee Bollinger (president of Columbia University), Jim Coulter (cofounder of TPG Capital), Margaret Spellings (former secretary of U.S. Department of Education), and Jim Steyer (founder and CEO of Common Sense Media). www.leadcommission.org