Just days ahead of The Cable Show being held next week in Washington, D.C., President Obama announced a new broadband and wireless initiative, ConnectED, aimed at connecting 99 percent of U.S. students to the Internet over the next five years.
Announcing the initiative at a North Carolina school, the president emphasized the role of the FCC in helping students access the Internet. He called on the agency to modernize and upgrade its existing E-Rate program, a universal service support program aimed at helping schools and libraries obtain broadband Internet access and effective communications tools.
Obama tasked the federal government with using existing funds more effectively and asked businesses, states, districts, schools and communities to back his measure.
"We are living in a digital age, and to help our students get ahead, we must make sure they have access to cutting-edge technology," the president said in a prepared statement released by the White House.
The initiative is no small feat for a country in which millions of students, especially those in rural areas where cable operators and telcos do not have widespread networks, are still without access to high-speed broadband. According to the release, fewer than 20 percent of teachers say their school's Internet is sufficient for educational purposes.
NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell released a statement following the White House announcement: "Throughout its history, the cable industry has continuously demonstrated an abiding commitment to our nation's schools and a deep appreciation for how broadband technology can help teachers, parents and students in promoting educational excellence," Powell said. "We welcome today's announcement by President Obama and look forward to working with the administration, the FCC and Congress to explore new ideas that will… connect America's schools with new tools for education and learning."
The president's plan could prove advantageous to other industry sectors as well: In his speech, he mentioned that the private sector could be called in to create low-cost apps and tablets as well as "feature-rich educational devices" and software.
FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn praised the announcement, saying the FCC "has been taking a hard look at ways to further modernize the E-Rate program to bring robust broadband to schools and libraries, especially those in low income and rural communities."
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