• FCC to double spending on broadband for schools
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     | February 02,2014
     

    WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission will double the amount of money it devotes to adding high-speed Internet connections in schools and libraries over the next two years, in an effort to meet President Barack Obama’s promise to provide broadband service for an estimated 20 million U.S. students in 15,000 schools, officials said Saturday.

    Financing for the new spending will come from restructuring the $2.4 billion E-Rate program, which provides money for “advanced telecommunications and information services” using the proceeds of fees paid by telecommunications users. The proportion that goes to broadband service in schools and libraries will increase to $2 billion a year from $1 billion.

    Obama referred to the changes during his State of the Union address last week. The changes will not require any additional taxes or assessments, according to an FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because a formal announcement was being planned for this week.

    The E-Rate program is part of the Universal Service Fund, which also provides money to connect rural areas and low-income people to phone and Internet service using money raised through fees on consumers’ phone bills. The commission’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, is expected to announce details of the plan Wednesday at an event for Digital Learning Day, which promotes the use of technology in education.

    Most of the redirected spending in 2014 will come from funds left over from previous years. Next year, much of the money will come from changes to the E-Rate program, including the elimination of programs that pay for outdated technologies, like paging services, dial-up Internet connections and email programs that are available free elsewhere.

    The spending will be used to increase available broadband speeds and provide wireless networks in schools, which are increasingly in demand for students using tablets and laptop computers.

    A 2010 survey conducted for the FCC by Harris Interactive found that roughly half of schools receiving E-Rate funds connected to the Internet at speeds of three megabits per second or less — too slow to stream many video services.

    The commission wants to give all schools access to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second by 2015, and connections of up to one gigabit per second by the end of the decade.

    Another survey, by the American Library Association, found that 60 percent of libraries reported their speeds failed to meet their patrons’ needs some or most of the time.

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