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FCC Workshop on eRate Funding Shows New Flexibility for School and Library Fiber Builds

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June 18, 2015 – Recent changes to the eligibility rules for the Federal Communication Commission’s eRate program open the door for new fiber connections for schools and libraries using agency funds.

Among the rule changes were the suspension of the requirement that applicants seek funding for large up front construction costs over several years, the equalization in the treatment for schools and libraries seeking support for “dark fiber” services, and allowing institutions to build high-speed broadband themselves when more cost-effective.

What’s more, these were only among the significant changes to the eRate program in December 2014.

Because they closely followed other significant changes in July 2014, it has taken some time for the broadband industry to fully recognize their significance. Moreover, the eRate is only the most recent of the four major components of the agency’s Universal Service Fund to receive an overhaul.

The eRate changes came last year in two traunches. in July, the agency updated its rules to allow great use of technologies allowing schools and libraries to close the so-called “Wi-Fi” gap.

Then in December, the agency a addressed the “Connectivity Gap” by granting schools and libraries significantly greater flexibility in purchasing Gigabit-level bandwidth to meet their growing needs. Additionally, the December order lifted the annual cap on spending eRate funds to $3.9 billion, from the current $2.4 billion.

Although the additional $1.5 billion in funds availability has been well-known, It has taken some time for the industry to recognize the scope of the rule changes for the construction of fiber-based services.

“Last year was a big year for the eRate,” said Lisa Hone, associate bureau chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau at the FCC at a May 20 workshop at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “The $3.9 billion means that in the 2015 funding year, the eRate is able to fully meet demand, for the first time since 2010.”

The May 20 “Public Workshop On E-Rate Funded Fiber Build Projects” drilled into details regarding the significance of the new fiber rules for eRate.

In a dialogue at the workshop between Jon Wilkins, managing director of the FCC, and Joe Freddoso, former CEO of MCNC, the non-profit fiber-optic network in North Carolina, Wilkins defined the following terms:

  • Lit fiber or lit services are the traditional, conventional, high-speed service, received from an incumbent service provider. The school or library is buying the service at a recurring, monthly charge, but may also need to pay a one-time construction charge.
  • Dark fiber are the physical fiber strands, built and owned by the service provider, but to which the school or library buys dedicated access, for some period of time, to operate for a period of time. This is often done through a legal mechanism known as an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU).
  • Self-provisioning is when the school or library takes full responsibility for itself to build, to operate, and to maintain the broadband network. While this can be a bigger undertaking, if the school needs to undertake this activity, eRate now supports it, too.

Before the December changes, if a school or library undertook construction of more than $500,000, it had to be spread over three years, said Wilkins. Now, it can all be done in one year.

As with many government funding activities, schools or libraries must come up with some portion of the funds — known as a match — to access eRate funds. Before the December changes, said Wilkins, the match had to be paid in the first year. Now, that up-front cost can be spread among four years.

These are the among the changes that can incentivize schools and libraries to obtain funding for fiber-optic services besides those lit services that are offered through a traditional incumbent. By enabling construction costs to be funded up front, Wilkins said, “eRate provides a much more open ability to select dark fiber or self-provisioning a network.”

Schools, Health and Libraries Conference a Vital Connection for Public Broadband

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WASHINGTON, May 18, 2015 – More than five years after the unveiling of the National Broadband Plan, policy-makers and on-the-ground-advocates seeking to build better broadband networks will convene here this week at the annual conference of the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

The conference, “Enhancing Broadband Through Innovation, Investment and Inclusion,” has become the regular Washington gathering point for those engaged in public broadband initiatives.

Among the keynote and plenary sessions at this year’s conference include addresses by Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, former Virginia Gov. and Sen. George Allen, plus Mayor Jill Boudreau of Mount Vernon, Washington.

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Conference

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Conference

Mount Vernon is building a Gigabit Network in its community, and she’ll be joined by Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities, the new non-profit coalition seeking to encourage municipalities to enhance next-generation broadband connectivity through advanced networks.

With so national and municipal developments advancing municipal and public-private networks – together with fast-moving developments at the FCC concerning the eRate and the White House’s ConnectED initiative – SHLB has become an important destination for those entities often called “community anchor institutions.”

These schools, hospital and health clinic, libraries and public computing centers serve as an important resource to ensure greater connectivity to, and knowledge of, our digital economy.

A pre-conference session on Wednesday include a two moderated discussion of the Healthcare Connect Fund, led by Jeff Mitchell of Lukas, Nace, Gutierrez & Sachs; and Bill England of e-Copernicus.

Additionally, the FCC, the Commerce Department’s National  Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the newly-formed National Digital Inclusion Alliance will be hosting related events on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday’s agenda includes addresses by Allen, Quinn, and an address on “Healthcare’s Invisible Strength” by David Hotchkiss of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Panel sessions will address developments in the eRate, wireless policy, ConnectED, Net Neutrality, municipal broadband, plus broadband research and planning.

Friday features a keynote by Clyburn, plus additional sessions on broadband adoption and digital inclusion. The closing plenary will feature Ray Timothy, CEO of the Utah Education and Telehealth Network and Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the Washington, DC, public library.

Created in 2009 to address the shortage of broadband for anchor institutions, the SHLB Coalition aims to organize these entities together with commercial companies and non-profit broadband providers to improve broadband connectivity for anchor institutions and their communities in all regions of the country. John Windhausen is the coalition’s executive director.

“Anchor institution personnel can train people about broadband services and technologies, thereby stimulating broadband usage and demand,” reads the SHLB Coalition mission and vision. “Furthermore, high-capacity ‘middle mile’ broadband networks serving community anchor institutions can be used as ‘jumping off points’ to serve surrounding residential and business consumers. Several studies show that building high-capacity broadband to community anchor institutions has a multiplier effect that generates tremendous economic growth for the community and the nation.”

Registration and agenda for the SHLB conference. The event is taking place at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition to Meet in Washington This Week

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WASHINGTON, May 6, 2014 – Efforts to construct Gigabit Networks will be featured prominently at the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition meeting this week in Washington, the fourth annual event for this community of broadband users. The even will run from Wednesday, May 7 through Friday, May 9.

Registration and the agenda for the event demonstrate a strong interest in the federal eRate fund to connect schools and libraries to high-speed broadband, the Federal Communications Commission’s Health Care Connect fund created in 2012, and ConnectED, the ultra-high speed initiative unveiled by the White House in June 2013.

John Windhausen, executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said that this year’s conference will demonstrate how community broadband groups are going “beyond BTOP,” the acronym from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, and which concluded last year. BTOP was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed just as President Obama was beginning his first term in office.

Among the more than 260 people registered to attend include officials from the California Telehealth Network, Connect Arkansas, C Spire, the Fiber Utilities Group, Gigabit Libraries Network, Google, ICF International, Internet2, the Kansas Fiber Network, Mobile Pulse, MOREnet, Time Warner Cable Business Class, and the Zayo Group.

The scheduled program is displayed below:

 

SHLB Coalition 2014 Annual Conference“The Premier Conference on Anchor Institution Broadband Policy.”May 7-9, 2014
Agenda 

Click on the Titles of the Sessions for Descriptions and Bios of the Speakers

Speakers listed below are confirmed  (M) = Moderator

Wed. May 7th
   Workshop #1 FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund Consortia 2:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

 

Featuring:

Matthew Quinn, FCC

Christi Barnhart, FCC

Workshop #2Building a Gigabit Nation1:00 – 5:30

 

Featuring:

Craig Settles

 

Workshop #3Regulatory ComplianceNoon – 2 p.m.

Featuring:

Jim Baller, Baller Herbst Law Firm

 

NTIA: Sustainability of PCC/SBA projects

2:30 – 6 p.m.

Featuring:

Gwenn Weaver, NTIA

6:00-7:30 p.m. Opening Night ReceptionMarriott Marquis Hotel Mezzanine Foyer
Thurs. May 8th
8:30-8:45 a.m.
Plenary #1:Opening CommentsJohn Windhausen, SHLB Executive Director

Don Means, SHLB Chairman

8:45-9:30 a.m.
Plenary #2:Louis Fox, CEO of CENIC  
9:30-10:00 a.m. BREAK
 10:00-11:00 a.m.
E-Rate #1:The $2 Billion Question: Funding for E-rateJon Bernstein, Bernstein Strategy Group (M)Jon Wilkins,FCC

Bob Bocher, ALA

Jeff Campbell, Cisco

Wireless Broadband #1:White Spaces and CAIsMichael Calabrese, New America Foundation (M)
Michael Daum, MicrosoftDon Means, Gigabit Libraries NetworkToby Bradley, Pascagoula MS School District
Health/E-rate: Building a Broadband Network (Part 1)Denise Atkinson-Shorey, e-Luminosity (M)
Duke Horan, Henkels & McCoy
Randy Lowe, Davis Wright  Tremaine, LLP
John Honker, Magellan Advisors

Scot Eberle, Fiber Utilities Group

 11:00-11:15 a.m.
 BREAK
 11:15-12:15 p.m.
  E-Rate #2:E-rate Capital InvestmentJen Leasure, The Quilt (M)
Emily Almond, Georgia Public Library ServiceAlan Katz, SunesysJamie Huber, COPESD

 

Rural Broadband #1:Sustainable LocalismSean McLaughlin, Access Humboldt (M)
Frank Odasz, Lone Eagle Consulting

Pam Lloyd, GCI

Edyael Casaperalta, Rural Broadband Policy Group

Health/E-rate:Building a Broadband Network (Part 2)Denise Atkinson-Shorey, e-Luminosity (M)
Duke Horan, Henkels & McCoy (M)

  Randy Lowe, Davis Wright  Tremaine, LLP

  John Honker, Magellan Advisors

  Scot Eberle, Fiber Utilities Group

 12:30-1:00 p.m. 1:00-2:00 p.m.
LunchPlenary #3:  ConnectED
Tom Power, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

Richard Culatta, U.S. Dept. of Education

 2:15-3:15 p.m.
Broadband Planning #1:Wireless Broadband Innovators: Anchors & Home
Bob Collie, ENA (M)James Ratleff, Applied Research Designs

 Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini, UNH Broadband Center for Excellence

 

ConnectED #1Private Sector Commitments to ConnectED Karen Perry, Clarion Collaborative (M)
Charles McKee, Sprint

Andrew Ko, Microsoft

Reg Leichty, Counsel to CoSN

 

 

Digital Inclusion #1:CAIs and the Digital Divide (Part 1) Laura Breeden, NTIA (M)
Jon Gant, Center for Digital Inclusion

Karen Mossberger, Arizona State University

Helen Milner, Tinder Foundation

 

 3:15-3:30 p.m.
BREAK
 3:30-4:30 p.m. Broadband Planning #2:Community Broadband Planning
Phil Lindley, ConnectME Authority (M)
Joshua Broder, Tilson Chris Tamarin, Oregon BB Outreach

Tim Scott, Axia

Broadband Mapping: The Key to New Knowledge Creation for CAIs
Marijke Visser, ALA (M)Ken Wall, Geodata Services
Stacey Aldrich, PA State Library

Jarrid Keller, CA State Library

Digital Inclusion #2:CAIs and the Digital Divide (Part 2) Francine Alkisswani, NTIA (M)
Samantha Becker, U. of Washington

Rodney Hopson, George Mason University

 5:00-5:30 p.m.

 

5:30-5:45 p.m.

Plenary #4Network Nebraska- Education; Success through Collaboration
Tom Rolfes, Education I.T. Manager, State of NebraskaZach Leverenz, CEO, EveryoneOn

 

6:00-7:30 p.m.
 Reception
Friday. May 9th
8:30-9:30 a.m.
 Plenary #5Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Schools, Baltimore County Public Schools 
 9:45-10:45 a.m.
 E-Rate #3:E-rate Benchmarks and Data 

Larra Clark, ALA (M)

Mark Walker, FCC

John Harrington, Funds for Learning

Jake Cowan, ULC

 

 

Wireless Broadband #2:It Takes a Mobile Village to raise a Mobile Child:Developing Mobile Learning across the Community

Sarah Morris, New America Foundation (M)

Kevin Capp, Mobile Pulse

Sheryl Abshire, Calcasieu Parish Schools

Lindsey Harmon, Connect Nevada

 

 

 Digital Inclusion #3:Kansas City, Google, Digital DivideAngela Siefer, Center for Digital Inclusion (M)
Erica Swanson, Google Fiber

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, KC Public Library

Crosby Kemper, KC Public Library

Michael Liimatta, Connecting for Good

 

10:45-11:15 a.m.
BREAK
 11:15-12:15 p.m.
Gigabit Cities #1:Beyond BTOP: Partnerships for Gigabit Brian Proffit, Zayo Bandwidth (M)
Jim Stewart, Utah Education Network

Laura Spining Dodson,NTIA

Mark Johnson, MCNC

 

Rural Broadband #2:Rural Broadband Experiments and the CAF Heather Gold, Fiber to the Home Council (M)
Jonathan Chambers, FCC

John Gillispie, MOREnet

Alyssa Clemsen, Utilities Telecommunications Council

 

 

Digital Inclusion #4: Sustaining Digital Inclusion

Kami Griffiths, CTN (M)

Allison Walsh, Broadband Rhode Island

Dionne Baux, Smart Communities Chicago

Stu Johnson, ConnectOhio  

 12:30-1:00 p.m. 1:00-2:00 p.m.
LunchPlenary #6
Tony Wilhelm, Chief of Staff, NTIA

Blair Levin, Executive Director, Gig.U

 

Expert Opinion: Business as Usual Despite Departure of Universal Service Administrative Company CEO

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Although it is the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) that is charged with implementing the ambitious universal service policy goals set forth in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “Act”), the FCC designated the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”), an independent, not-for-profit corporation, to administer the day-to-day operations of federal universal service. USAC bills and collects contributions to the federal universal service fund (“USF”) from telecommunications providers and disburses the funds to the four federal universal service programs: (1) High Cost; (2) Lifeline; (3) Rural Health Care; and (4) E-Rate. At the head of USAC is its Chief Executive Officer, who is responsible for the management of USAC’s daily operations.

What does this have to do with Scott Barash? As USAC’s first in-house counsel (a post he assumed in 1999) and Acting Chief Executive Officer (a post he assumed in 2006), Scott has been a constant USAC presence for over fourteen years in an otherwise tumultuous telecommunications world. He has had a ringside seat as telecommunications has progressed from primarily PSTN to include wireless, interconnected VoIP and broadband.

In his role as USAC’s first in-house counsel, Scott worked with USAC to develop federal universal service practices and procedures when the federal universal service fund was still in its infancy. As USAC’s Acting CEO, Scott managed USAC’s day-to-day operations, a task which required him to forge strong collaborative relationships with the FCC and USAC Board of Directors. As USAC’s figurehead, and perhaps most well-known employee, Scott was held accountable for USAC’s actions to Congress, the FCC, the USAC Board of Directors, industry participants and telecommunications consumers alike.

Given Scott’s long history with USAC and the importance of his role as Acting CEO, one would think that his recently announced departure would mean significant upheaval at USAC. That is not the case. There is no doubt that USAC faces tough challenges. Technology has rapidly outpaced the current telecommunications laws making it difficult for USAC to align the FCC’s policy goals and regulations with the practical reality of today’s telecommunications providers and the services they offer.

The FCC is grappling with reform in all of the federal universal service programs, as well as attempting comprehensive contribution reform. Lawmakers are also grappling with the task of universal service reform. President Obama has previously called for the overhaul of E-Rate, a task which the FCC initiated with its E-Rate modernization NPRM. In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama re-stated his commitment to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to 99% of America’s students with the support of the FCC and philanthropic relationships with companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon.

All of these potential changes come at a time when federal universal service has seen a shrinking contribution base and higher contribution factors (16.4% for the first quarter of 2014). With the move away from the Public Switched Telephone Network towards IP-based telecommunications, whether broadband Internet access, text-messaging and enterprise communications providers should be added to the list of federal USF contributors remains a contentious subject. While each of these is a matter of policy that must first be addressed by the FCC,9 each of them will have a significant administrative impact on USAC.

And yet, the old adage is true. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is no doubt that the loss of Scott’s broad institutional knowledge and practical perspective regarding effective implementation of FCC policy goals will be a significant loss to USAC. However, perhaps the best testament to Scott’s leadership is that because of the strong administrative practices and procedures developed during his tenure, his departure will have little to no impact on the day-to-day administrative aspects of federal universal service.

At least in the short term (i.e., pending any significant Congressional or FCC universal service reform), the day-to-day obligations for federal USF contributors and beneficiaries will look the same after Scott’s departure as they did during his time as USAC’s Acting CEO. Nonetheless, given the rapidly evolving state of telecommunications and the calls for rapid, decisive federal universal service reform, it will only benefit USAC to have a strong, knowledgeable leader at the helm. The board would be wise to nominate, and the FCC to appoint, a new USAC CEO in an expeditious manner.

The Broadband State of the Union? Obama Touts Apple- and Microsoft-Funded eRate Initiative in Address

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WASHINGTON, January 29, 2014 – President Obama highlighted the importance of broadband connectivity in his State of the Union address Tuesday, and announced that Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon were contributing funds to enable ultra-high-speed broadband connections “over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.”

The statement appears to be a reference to ConnectED, the White House and Federal Communications Commission initiative announced in June 2013 to update the eRate component for enhancing broadband spending under the Universal Service Fund.

The FCC has been overhauling portions of the USF in recent years, and the effort to tackle to the eRate components addresses an important component not yet addressed by the agency.

When Obama announced the ConnectED initiative at Mooresville Middle School in North Carolina in June, he said:

Today, the average American school has about the same bandwidth as the average American home, even though obviously there are 200 times as many people at school as there are at home. Only around 20 percent of our students have access to true high-speed Internet in their classroom. By comparison, South Korea has 100 percent of its kids with high-speed Internet. We’ve got 20 percent; South Korea 100 percent. In countries where — in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools? Right? Why wouldn’t we have it available for our children’s education?

At the time, Obama called on the FCC to use the existing eRate program to direct the government to provide the necessary technology and training for teachers to use it and urge the communities to support the program.

One month later, the agency’s acting chairwoman took the first steps to implement the initiative.

And in a blog post from last Friday, January 24, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler began to articulate the motivation behind the administration and the FCC’s approach to ConnectED/eRate changes. Wheeler wrote:

It isn’t enough to simply emphasize the need for more broadband; the focus has to be on what high-speed Internet connections enable, whether in fully connected classrooms or after school in a library. We must lead the world in this effort. I am firmly committed to meeting the goal of connecting 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband within five years.

The fact of the matter is that we have moved from the era of “computers in the classroom” where a few PCs sat along the wall for occasional use to “computers on the desks” where students interact on an ongoing basis to not only learn their lessons, but also to acquire the computer literacy skills necessary for 21st Century careers.

That would suggest that the new version of the eRate is going to be about much more than broadband connectivity – it will be about digital literacy training through the sort of programs that have attracted the interest of computer makers like Microsoft and Apple.

In Tuesday night’s speech, Obama referenced the eRate as follows:

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.

Immediately following the speech, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released the following statement:

Harnessing the power of digital technology is central to improving our education system and our global competitiveness. In the Internet age, every student in America should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive. The Federal Communications Commission shares the President’s commitment to seizing the opportunities of digital learning, which is why we’ve already launched an effort to modernize our successful E-Rate program – the nation’s largest education technology program. By applying business-like management practices to E-Rate, we can take steps this year that will make existing funds go farther to significantly increase our investment in high-speed broadband connectivity for schools and libraries for the benefit of our students and teachers. Together, with my fellow Commissioners, Congress, educators and other stakeholders, we can ensure that all of America’s students get a 21st-century education.

My former colleague, Chloe Albanesius, now at PC Mag, has these responses from Apple and Verizon:

“We are proud to join President Obama in this historic initiative to transform America’s schools. Apple has a long history in education, and we have pledged to contribute MacBooks, iPads, software and our expertise to support the ConnectED project. We look forward to announcing more details with the White House soon,” Apple said.

A Verizon spokesman, meanwhile, said that “we share the President’s vision for broadband as a transformative technology for educators and students, and in the coming weeks, we look forward to discussing how Verizon can help ensure America’s teachers and students have the tools and skills to succeed in this 21st century information economy.”

Drew Clark is Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund, and wireless spectrum policy at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Nationally recognized for his knowledge on telecommunications law and policy, Clark brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, the smart grid, eGovernment, and family connectedness. Clark is also available on Google+ and Twitter.

At July Meeting, FCC Votes to Modernize E-Rate Program with Gigabit Broadband for Schools

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WASHINGTON, August 5, 2013 – At its open meeting on July 19, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would work to modernize the E-Rate program in order to provide greater bandwidth for schools and libraries.

Reforms to be implemented to the E-Rate program include the provision of affordable, high-capacity broadband for schools and libraries, the improvement of administrative efficiency and the maximization of cost-effectiveness in purchases. The agency also said it would work to improve its data collection methods in order to be able to more fairly allocate funding and phase out funding for outdated services so that more money can be allotted to investments that will increase bandwidth.

The changes were driven in part to meet the goals set out by President Barack Obama under his ConnectEd program. In June, Obama announced that he intends to ensure that 99 percent of schools have Gigabit-level broadband connections within the next five years.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said that schools and libraries currently have a severe lack in broadband speed. She said that half of schools in a 2010 FCC survey had a slower internet connection than the average home. Additionally, 41 percent of libraries reported that their internet speeds were insufficient to satisfy user demands in 2012.

Clyburn also said that adequate broadband connections can greatly improve the quality of education. She cited the example of Loris Elementary in South Carolina which, through provided students with laptops and educational software, moved from forty-first to the top twenty in a state ranking of similar schools.

“It doesn’t matter whether you live in a rural, low-income area or in a wealthy urban community, connecting a child to the Internet links them to cutting-edge instruction and new learning opportunities,” Clyburn said.

President Obama Unveils Ultra High Speed Initiative for Broadband in Education at Middle School in North Carolina

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WASHINGTON, June 6, 2013 – President Barack Obama announced a new plan – dubbed ConnectEd – to expand ultra high-speed broadband access to nearly all schools in the country during a speech at Mooreville Middle School in North Carolina this afternoon.

The initiative, entitled ConnectEd, aims to bring wired broadband and wireless access to 99 percent of schools within the next five years.

“Specifically, today, I am directing the Federal Communications Commission to begin a process that will connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband Internet within five years,” he said to applause. “Within five years we’re going to get it done.”

“Now, those of you here at Mooresville understand why this is important, but I’m speaking to a larger audience, so I want to explain why this is important,” Obama continued.

“Today, the average American school has about the same bandwidth as the average American home, even though obviously there are 200 times as many people at school as there are at home.  Only around 20 percent of our students have access to true high-speed Internet in their classroom.  By comparison, South Korea has 100 percent of its kids with high-speed Internet.  We’ve got 20 percent; South Korea 100 percent.  In countries where — in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?  Right?  Why wouldn’t we have it available for our children’s education?”

The president called on the FCC to use the existing eRate program to direct the government to provide the necessary technology and training for teachers to use it and urge the communities to support the program.

The increased connectivity proposed by the Obama administration would allow teachers and students to take advantage of personalized software, online textbooks and other helpful programs.

The ConnectEd program will also embrace private sector innovation. Districts will be able to purchase educational devices from leading technology companies and take advantage of various educational programs and apps.

International competition was a significant driving factor behind this initiative. In South Korea, not only do schools have ultra-high-speed internet connections, teachers receive digital literacy training, and print textbooks will be phased out in favor of digital by 2016.

The program has already gained support from the FCC. Earlier on Thursday, Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn issued a statement expressing agreement with the president’s assessment of the importance of broadband in the classroom.

“Basic Internet access is no longer sufficient, and the FCC has been taking a hard look at ways to further modernize the eRate program to bring robust broadband to schools and libraries, especially those in low income and rural communities,” she said.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also issued a statement expressing approval of the ConnectEd initiative. In recent months, she has been promoting just such a program, and she noted past successed of the eRate program.

“We need to protect what we have done, build on it, and put it on a course to provide higher speeds and greater opportunities in the days ahead.  This initiative is an exciting effort that has my wholehearted and enthusiastic support,” she said.

eRate Reform, National Public Safety Network FirstNet, Focus of Senate-FCC Oversight Hearing

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WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 – At Tuesday’s oversight hearing of the Federal Communications Commission, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., on Tuesday put the focus on the portion of the Universal Service Fund designed to provide connectivity to schools and libraries, as well as on the public safety network described as FirstNet. The Senate and the agency, he said, “need to think big about the future of eRate.”

Touting the success of the eRate in connecting the vast majority of classes to the internet, Rockefeller said it was necessary to continue to ensure that every child has access to the internet – and just how vital the internet is to current education system.

“More than 92 percent of classrooms have Internet access,” he said. “But, as impressive and important as this statistic is, basic internet connectivity is not sufficient to meet our 21st Century educational needs. Digital information and technology will continue to play an increasing role in education, so we need to think about how we are going to meet the broadband infrastructure needs of our schools and libraries.

Additionally, Rockefeller highlighted the importance of FirstNet, the “nationwide interoperable public safety network that our first responders are owed,” In a like fashion, he said that the internet is vital to fulfilling the needs of students around the country. “If every coffee shop in America can offer wireless connectivity, than by-golly every school should as well,” he said.

Put in place by the efforts of Rockefeller and others under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the eRate pays for much of the costs of schools across the country to connect to broadband services.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell agreed with Rockefeller that the eRate needed to be updated to fit current needs of schools and libraries around the country. However, McDowell cautioned that while the eRate is important, “we must address contribution reform first.” This contribution reform would address how the revenue is raised for the universal service fund.

The hearing also briefly touched on violence in the media, although little substantive discussion actually took place.

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