Last month, the Federal Communications Commission took a significant step toward addressing one of the greatest imperatives in education today: ensuring that every student has access to reliable broadband Internet and the learning opportunities it can provide.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed E-Rate Modernization Order would update the 18-year-old E-Rate program, the federal initiative that provides discounted telecommunications and Internet access for schools and libraries in the United States. Wheeler's proposal would reallocate at least $1 billion toward equipping the nation's schools with high-capacity wireless broadband in the next year alone. It would ensure improved access to the most effective education technology available to students today, and it would lay the groundwork for a radically improved education infrastructure for tomorrow.
I applaud Chairman Wheeler's bold stance on this vital issue. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. The proposal has come under fire, largely for a perceived lack of scope, and has sparked a considerable debate. The plan will be put to a vote this Friday, and its future is uncertain.
I'm a realist. Naturally, Chairman Wheeler's proposal has room for improvement — but it is an excellent start. And we desperately need to get started, because universal access to broadband is not just an end unto itself. Universal broadband is an undeniable prerequisite to accessing all modern ed-tech tools — tools that, incidentally, happen to be of the most crucial importance to precisely the students who do not yet have access to broadband.