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FCC Votes to Expand Internet Access for Schools and Libraries
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson applauded a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Friday that marks a major step toward preparing students for the global economy by expanding Internet access for schools and libraries.
The FCC voted today to modernize the E-rate program and boost support for wireless connectivity for schools and libraries. This action is designed to expand wireless access, make E-rate dollars go further, and deliver faster, simpler, and more efficient applications and other processes. Known formally as the federal Schools and Libraries Program, E-rate established a surcharge on long-distance telephone bills in 1997 that provides discounts to assist schools and libraries in obtaining affordable telecommunications and Internet access.
“Our schools, society, and economy thrive on interconnectivity,” Torlakson said. “Today’s action will not only help narrow the digital divide among students, but also help us reach and teach every child so they will be prepared for the world that awaits them.”
Torlakson has championed efforts to update E-rate. In March 2012, he convened his Education Technology Task Force to bring 21st century tools into California’s classrooms so that no child is left offline. He has also brought together other state superintendents via the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to work together on this issue.
Last September, Torlakson went to Washington, D.C., to push for increased federal assistance to provide broadband access for all students and schools across California. While there, he co-chaired the CCSSO’s Digital Learning Task Force to discuss and meet with members of the FCC, the White House, and the U.S. Department of Education. He also met with U.S. Senators to discuss E-rate.
In June of last year, President Barack Obama proposed modernizing the E-rate program as part of his ConnectED initiative, which Torlakson at the time called “a huge step in the right direction.” The FCC opened a public comment period soon afterward. Torlakson encouraged local superintendents and other education stakeholders across California to weigh in, and the California Department of Education also submitted its comments.
Among the state’s priorities are expanding the program; making it easier to apply for and receive funding; ensuring the flexibility to take advantage of future technologies; distributing funding according to highest-priority needs; and allowing for adequate bandwidth to support wireless access as schools continue moving toward a one-to-one computer ratio.
For more information on today’s vote, visit the Federal Communications Commission’s Web site. For information on how the state uses the Schools and Libraries Program and the California Teleconnect Fund to provide telecommunications discounts to schools in the state, visit the California Department of Education’s E-rate Web page.