Anyone who has a child, or who has seen a child recently, can tell you that the youth of America are highly connected users of Wi-Fi. According to recent data from the Pew Internet Project, three-quarters of teenagers use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to access the Internet. The FCC has recognized and responded to the ever-increasing demand for mobile broadband, recently facilitating the use of additional spectrum for Wi-Fi. This additional spectrum and the widespread use of mobile technology could be leveraged to greatly enhance kids’ learning experiences, if only Wi-Fi were ubiquitously available in educational settings.
Although the E-rate program administered by the FCC gives out nearly $2.5 billion each year for technological advancements in schools and libraries, to date very little of this funding has been used to make Wi-Fi available to students within school buildings and libraries. Fortunately, the FCC is currently revamping the E-rate program to respond to the changing broadband needs of schools and libraries. As part of these reforms, the FCC has identified $2 billion within the existing program that it can use to fund broadband. Chairman Wheeler is proposing to put this $2 billion to work for America’s students by funding Wi-Fi deployments in schools and libraries beginning next year.
While the Commission often is called on to decide complex, highly contentious issues, every once in a while it finds itself in a situation where a particular decision has the potential to achieve important public interest objectives with enthusiastic support from the full spectrum of stakeholders. Using E-rate funds to provide schools and libraries with much-needed Wi-Fi falls into this category, garnering support from schools and libraries, education companies, equipment manufacturers, and service providers, including cable operators.
If this proposal is adopted, schools and libraries that have not been able to access funding for Wi-Fi will now be able to offer wireless broadband to their students and educators. High-speed broadband will no longer be limited to the front office or computer lab, but can be untethered and available to each student on individual devices. And this can be done immediately without collecting a single additional dollar from consumers that pay into the fund. This is a clear win-win solution for everyone and NCTA strongly encourages the FCC to put this proposal into action as quickly as possible.