Lawmakers Ask Tech Companies to Contribute to Networking Schools

As more U.S. schools turn to online education and digital curriculum, a reliable and fast internet connection is a necessary component for embracing the technology. And realizing that need for high-speed internet for schools, White House advisers have proposed an ambitious plan to expand internet access in schools.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered a plan to bring high-speed Internet for 99% of American schools that would allow students to use digital notebooks and teachers to customize lessons like never before, reports the Washington Post. The proposal, ConnectEd, was announced earlier this summer, and would cost billions of dollars that the president wants to raise by increasing fees for mobile phone users.

U.S. lawmakers are urging the technology industry to get involved in the ConnectEd, which is the overhaul of the E-Rate program, according to Caitlin Emma of Politico. Under the E-Rate program, the administration has provided some form of Internet access to 95% of the nation’s schools and libraries.

ConnectEd is designed to provide 99% of American students with Internet access in all classrooms through high-speed broadband and wireless within five years. The current $2.3 billion E-Rate program is funded through the Universal Service Fund.

The lawmakers want technology companies to weigh in on reworking E-Rate and help make it a success. “The school Internet subsidy program worth $4 billion to $6 billion will be a boon to the industry’s bottom line in the long run.”

“I strongly encourage you to weigh in, for maximizing the participation in the E-Rate proceeding will maximize the benefit of our E-Rate investment,” U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said.

The FCC is seeking comments on the agency’s request by Sept. 16.

Businesses that participate in E-Rate have long complained about enforcing the program’s rules. But the program needs more money to meet the administration’s goal: Current demand from schools is much larger than what the program generates.

Under the new reworking plan, the FCC is required to raise more cash to make the program more efficient.

“What’s not clear is how to achieve these goals,” Clyburn said. “That’s what we are trying to answer with our proceeding and that is where we desperately need your help.” Silicon Valley innovators, researchers, community and business leaders, including those who have never participated in E-Rate proceedings, can and should inform these decisions, she said.

The new school Internet program could create lots of opportunities for technology companies. According to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, schools’ demands for technology will skyrocket once all schools are connected with access to high-speed broadband.

“If we bring all of our schools up to really high-speed broadband and we do it at scale, we’re going to send a signal to the marketplace for content creators, for device manufacturers. We are going to create opportunities for them to develop new tools and ideas and new content for schools across the country,” she said.