Obama Mulls ConnectEd, High-Speed Internet Plan for 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.

According to Zachary A. Goldfarb of Washington Post, 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. The little-known 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. “Doing that relies on the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency that has the power to approve or reject the plan,” writes Goldfarb, as the president would not need Congress to approve the measure.

Republicans vow to oppose any idea that raises costs for consumers, while others question whether it’s appropriate to use the FCC to fund an initiative that is better left to Congress’s authority. “Most consumers would balk at higher costs, higher phone bills, and I sure hope that this is not part of the equation that ultimately comes out,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “If they pursue that course, there’s going to be pushback, absolutely.”

Republicans said that if the proposal moves forward, they will hold congressional hearings and pressure the FCC to side against the plan. It is not clear how much they could do, as there are five seats on the commission — two filled by Democrats, one by a Republican, two open spots for which President Obama has nominated candidates.

Under the ConnectEd plan, a high-speed Internet service will be provided to 99% of schools within five years. ConnectEd is “a case study in how Obama is trying to accomplish a second-term legacy despite Republican opposition in Congress.”

ConnectEd is estimated to cost at $4 billion to $6 billion. The administration said that it could work out to about $12 in fees for every cellphone user over three years.

White House officials worried that Obama could be accused of raising taxes on all Americans who use phone or Internet service, amid a broader debate in which Republicans are saying he is trying to raise taxes on the middle class. “Using the FCC as a way to get around Congress to spend money that Congress doesn’t have the political will to spend — I think that’s very scary,” said Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Republican former FCC commissioner. “Constitutionally, it’s Congress that decides how federal funds should be spent.”

According to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Obama had to decide himself. Obama had long expressed frustration that countries such as South Korea had embraced technology in the classroom at a faster rate than the United States has, so he became enthralled with the idea and gave it the go-ahead.