President Barack Obama thinks American students aren't connected enough, and that access to faster Internet connections and technologies is crucial in today's schools. That's why he wants to make sure that 99% of students have high-speed broadband access within the next five years.
"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," Obama said in a statement published by the White House.
Obama will announce the new initiative, ConnectED, on Thursday during a speech at a high-tech middle school in Mooresville, N.C.
The initiative calls on the Federal Communications Commission to provide virtually all American students with high-speed broadband and wireless access in their schools and libraries by 2018. The initiative should also give students and teachers the tools needed to take advantage of high-speed Internet access.
"Basic Internet access is no longer sufficient, and 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," said FCC acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in a statement sent to the press.
For the administration, this set of reforms is needed to level American schools with their international counterparts, like schools in South Korea that all have access to high-speed Internet.
According to a fact sheet (PDF) posted along with the press release, the connections must be at least 100 Mbps with a goal of eventually increasing speeds up to 1 Gbps.
To meet this goal, the FCC will be tasked with using E-Rate, its existing program to assist schools and libraries to improve connectivity. Obama also asked the federal government to provide the necessary funding for the initiative. The White House noted that this initiative doesn't need Congress' approval.
The initiative aims not only to provide high-speed Internet and improved equipment, but also to improve teachers' technical skills. To reach this goal, the Department of Education, working alongside states and school districts, will invest in training teachers to better prepare them to take advantage of new technologies.
For the Obama administration, this initiative is an imperative of the digital age. For the Obama administration, this initiative is an imperative of the digital age.
"Our schools were designed for a different era –- based on a limited school day and a seasonal calendar," reads the fact sheet. "This system does not take into account the constant learning opportunities of global connectivity, and does not prepare our students for a collaborative and networked economy."
The potential that this kind of reform represents has been already discussed in the past. A 2010 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (PDF) pointed out that "while broadband is not a panacea for education reform, it is positioned to serve as an essential vehicle for delivering content and tools that can be used to spur student engagement, enhance learning outcomes, facilitate collaboration and innovation among educators, and enable cost savings in the administration of education."