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Polis Urges Swift Action to Improve Internet Access in Schools and Libraries

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Washington, Dec 18, 2013 | comments

Today, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), along with a bipartisan group of two dozen Representatives, called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to improve and modernize the federal E-Rate program, which provides critical discounts for schools and libraries on their telecommunications and Internet services. This important update will ensure every school has the ability to accelerate next-generation education reforms, support teachers, and enhance student learning. 

“At a time in which technology is transforming so many aspects of our lives, too many schools do not have access to the connectivity they need to take advantage of the opportunities that digital learning presents,” said Rep. Polis. “It is time for the FCC to act to improve, modernize, and streamline the E-Rate program in order to bring high-speed broadband to every classroom and personalize learning for every student.”

The improvements to E-Rate will enable students to take full advantage of digital learning, which education experts agree requires 100 Mbps or more of bandwidth for every 1,000 students and staff members today, increasing to 1 Gbps by 2017. Unfortunately, 40 million of America’s K-12 students do not currently have the Internet access and Wi-Fi they need to succeed in the global economy. In order to reach this goal, the group urged the FCC to focus E-rate on broadband connectivity and infrastructure, create an upgrade fund to support rural areas, increase transparency and accountability, and simplify and streamline the program so that high-speed broadband can be deployed to more schools and classrooms.

“The district I represent in Upstate New York is largely rural, making increased access to broadband a priority of mine in Congress,” said Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY). “I am pleased to be working with Representative Polis in a bipartisan manner to improve education through broadband expansion.  If our children are going to compete in the 21st century workforce, they must have access to 21st century resources.”

“E-rate was critical to bringing basic internet connection to schools on the North Coast and in rural areas across the United States, but the program hasn’t kept pace with changing technology,” Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) said. “Modernizing the E-rate program will improve collaboration in the classroom, allow students and teachers to access cutting-edge educational tools and material from around the world, and help schools prepare students for tomorrow’s job market.” 

“Advances in technology and the Internet have significantly transformed the way our students learn. The classroom experience is becoming increasingly dependent on digital and online learning tools – and as learning continues to evolve, it is more important than ever that we connect every school and library to high-speed broadband,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA). “To ensure our students are prepared for a 21st century economy, we must do better than providing them with the technologies and Internet speeds of the past. It’s time to reform the E-rate program to meet the technology demands of the future.”

Congressman Jared Polis is co-chair of the Congressional E-Learning Caucus and a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The full text of the letter is below. You can find a signed copy of the letter here.

December 18, 2013 

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler, Commissioner Clyburn, Commissioner O’Rielly, Commissioner Rosenworcel, and Commissioner Pai:

As Members of Congress concerned with improving our education system and preparing students for the jobs of the future, we are writing to urge swift action to improve and modernize the E-rate program in order to help connect our nation’s schools with high-speed broadband over the next five years. This critical update will ensure every school has the ability to accelerate next-generation education reforms, support teachers, and enhance student learning. We believe this is an important step we can take to provide our children with high-quality digital learning opportunities in order to improve student outcomes and prepare them to succeed in a 21st century economy.

Improving our children’s ability to take advantage of learning technologies has always been a bipartisan endeavor, as has been the E-rate program itself. We are proud to support the bipartisan recommendations to update E-rate and we call for those across the education, government, and business communities to recognize the opportunity we have to improve and modernize our schools. Therefore, we ask the Commission for swift action to bring high-speed broadband to our students on an expedited basis.

Closing the education gap means ensuring that our schools and libraries have access to digital learning opportunities that require high-speed broadband. However, too many of our children are currently trying to learn skills for tomorrow with outdated infrastructure from the past. While the E-rate program was enormously successful in bringing basic telephone and broadband to schools and classrooms, the connectivity provided is no longer sufficient. The average American school has about the same bandwidth as the average American home, but with 200 times as many users. Therefore, 72% of our schools do not have the Internet infrastructure they need to take advantage of digital learning opportunities today, and fewer than 1% have the infrastructure they will need in the future.

In an age when high-speed broadband is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, we must extend digital opportunities to every classroom. This is particularly crucial in rural areas, where students are less likely to have the speeds and infrastructure they need to take advantage of new technologies and high-quality educational content. Forty million of our nation’s students—the next generation of talent in the United States—are being left behind without the speeds they need to succeed. As Commissioner Ajit Pai has noted, “Today, too many kids walk off the school bus, only to walk decades into the past. This is unacceptable. … Parents are right to expect that schools will help prepare their children for the America of tomorrow, and they know that can’t happen in the classroom of yesterday.”

Experts agree that to enable students to take full advantage of digital learning, America’s schools should aim for 100 Mbps of bandwidth or more for every 1,000 students and staff members today, and 1 Gbps by 2017. In today’s global economy, these high speeds aren’t just an educational imperative, but a competitive necessity. Test results released this month show that American students still lag far behind countries like China, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in math, reading, and science. It’s no longer enough just to compete for jobs; we have to compete for higher educational outcomes enabled by higher broadband speeds.

This means we need to: (1) Focus E-rate on broadband connectivity and infrastructure to ensure that we maximize the impact of the program on learning by limiting support for yesterday’s outdated dial-up era technologies; (2) Create an upgrade fund within the E-rate program to connect every school and library, particularly those in rural areas, to high-speed broadband; (3) Increase transparency and accountability for the program in order to reduce costs, research effective practices, and ensure that all students have access to the connectivity they need; and (4) Simplify and streamline onerous paperwork requirements to improve program efficiency. These reforms will make possible strategic investments to deploy high-speed broadband to schools and classrooms across the country.

We simply cannot prepare our kids to compete for 21st century jobs by leaving them stranded with age-old technologies. Therefore, we ask you to support swift action to modernize and expand the E-rate program to bring transformative learning opportunities to every school in America.
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Tags: Education

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