America’s telecoms regulatory authority, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has announced that it plans to spend $2 Billion to outfit the nation’s schools and libraries with Wi-Fi and high-speed broadband connections. Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman was blunt about previous failings when unveiling the plan, saying that previous policies “[had] failed to provide basic broadband connectivity to more than 15 million Americans.”
Since the introduction of the E-Rate in 1997, a program that makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries in America, Wheeler was conscious that E-Rate is out dated and that its funds go to the wrong places. Over the past few years, digital textbooks and other digital learning technologies have become a necessity in schools, which has been one of the driving forces behind the modernisation of the program in 2013.
“This proposal will also begin a multi-year transition of all E-Rate funding away from 20th Century technologies, like dial-up phone service and pagers, to 21st Century broadband to every classroom, while maintaining flexibility to meet the needs of individual schools and libraries”.
The proposal will see the FCC invest $2bn over the next two years to bring Wi-Fi to schools, with particular attention paid to rural communities that have been underserved in the past. Previously, Wheeler said, E-Rate has only been able to fund Wi-Fi in 5 per cent of schools and 1 per cent of libraries and no money was available for Wi-Fi last year.
The particular focus on Wi-Fi is so that students can have access to modern teaching tools such as tablets and digital textbooks. While the cost of these devices is going down, Wheeler observed, three out of five US schools lack the in-classroom Wi-Fi that’s needed to make them useful. Complete and comprehensive national wi-fi coverage remains a pipe-dream for the continental United States as a whole, but beginning with areas of high necessity like schools makes a great deal of sense. It also means hardware purchasing can become more flexible and mobile-focused.
This follows the introduction of the Florida Standards, a modified version of Common Core State Standards, which require a more technology-driven academic environment. Florida districts are now required to have a computer or tablet available for every student in a class, especially because 50 percent of all instructional materials purchased by school districts are required to be digital by 2015 and by the 2017-18 school year, districts will be required to have a 1-to-1 student to computer ratio.