President Obama’s “E-Rate Program” Brings High-Speed Internet to Most Schools Within Five Years

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On June 6, President Obama visited an innovative middle school in central North Carolina to present a demonstration of the Internet-based education programs that he promises to make available nationwide.

While speaking to an audience of enthusiastic teenagers, President Obama said he asked the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) to expand an existing program in order to provide schools and libraries with discounted high-speed Internet. The expansion will increase the fees that have already been added to consumer’s phone bills.

President Obama believes that this initiative may lead to better technology in 99% of schools within the next five years.

“There’s no reason why we can’t replicate the success you’ve found here,” said The President, while the students eagerly cheered him on. “And for those of you who follow politics in Washington, here’s the best news—none of this requires an act of Congress. We can, and we will, get started right away.” He added.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Education Secretary went to the demonstration as well; Duncan’s program could work with the F.C.C. to refresh the initiative, which is known as the Schools and Libraries Program, or E-rate. This program will provide local schools with Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, among the fastest Internet speed commercially available.

The federal money that President Obama has proposed to use for this purpose could be used by schools to pay for wireless networks throughout all of their buildings and campuses. The President praised the Mooresville, North Carolina School System for their program, which provides every student with a computer, upgraded technology, and teachers who’ve been trained thoroughly. This program resulted in an overall improved school performance within Mooresville.

Mr. Duncan told reporters that he learned about the innovations in Mooresville because the superintendent was a friend. According to Mr. Duncan, the school stopped purchasing textbooks several years ago in order to pay for the technology. He says that President Obama wants to “shine a spotlight on best practices and try to make them to scale.”

The administration wants to improve the efficiency of their current program, so they’ll be able to pay for a similar technology-upgrading program throughout the United States. They also want telephone customers to pay an extra $5 a year on their bill that would go towards the new program.

The Schools and Libraries program is part of the Universal Service Fund, an $8.7 billion program that distributes money for a variety of purposes. Approximately half of the money goes towards a program that’s been contributing to telephone and Internet service for rural and remote areas, and $200 million goes to pay for telephone and Internet service for health care professionals in rural areas.

The F.C.C, an independent agency, doesn’t answer to The President directly, but nominates an agency chairman instead. All changes to the outline of the program will go through a rule-making procedure, and must be approved by a majority of the commission’s members. There are currently only three members serving, with two seats vacant.

The program will assess the fees on phone companies, and place the cost on the consumers. On the long-distance portion of phone bills, tax is equal to approximately 15 percent, which results in the cost of a few dollars for most home and mobile phone plans.

Schools and libraries who qualify for E-rate support will receive discounts for services and equipment between 20 to 90 percent; however this depends on the household income levels of the students, and whether the school is located in an urban or rural area.


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