The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will double the size of its existing E-Rate fund to connect U.S. schools to high speed broadband connections. The E-Rate fund is part of the FCC's universal service fund dedicated to bringing broadband Internet connections to schools and libraries. President Obama committed to connecting 99% of all schools within 5 years.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said:
“This investment is a down-payment on the goal of 99 percent of America’s students having high-speed Internet connections within five years. As we consider long-term improvements to the 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.”
Funding for new investments in high-speed Internet will come from redirecting existing E-Rate funds to focus on high-capacity Internet connectivity, increasing efficiency, and modernizing management of the E-Rate program.
“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,” Chairman Wheeler said.
During President Obama's State of the Union address in February, he also announced partnerships with several tech companies and broadband providers to supplement the E-Rate changes:
"Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit. "
These public/private partnerships include over $750 million in private-sector commitments to deliver cutting-edge technologies to classrooms, including devices, free software, teacher professional development, and home wireless connectivity. These include the following agreements:
- Apple – Pledged $100 million in iPads, MacBooks, and other products along with content and professional development tools to enrich learning in disadvantaged schools.
- AT&T – Pledged over $100 million to provide middle-school students free Internet connectivity for educational devices over their wireless network for three years.
- Autodesk – Pledged to expand the company’s “Design the Future” program to be available to every secondary school in the country – offering for free over $250 million in value.
- Microsoft – Committed to launch a substantial affordability program open to all U.S. public schools by deeply discounting the price of its Windows operating system, which will substantially bring down the cost of Windows-based devices.
- O’Reilly Media – Partnering with Safari Books Online to make over $100 million in educational content and tools available, for free, to every school in America.
- Sprint – Committed to offer free wireless service for up to 50,000 low-income high school students over the next four years, valued at $100 million.
- Verizon – Announced a multi-year program to support the ConnectED vision through up to $100 million in cash and in-kind commitments.