The Federal Communications Commission is trying to move fast to make the Internet in schools faster.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Wednesday that the agency will make connecting U.S. schools and libraries to high-speed broadband the No. 1 priority for its school Internet program, known as E-Rate. To carry out this goal, the FCC will restructure how E-Rate is managed and where its money is spent by 2015.
E-Rate was created in 1996 to subsidize Internet connections for schools and libraries with funds from fees on telephone bills through the Universal Service Fund. But E-Rate has lagged behind the pace of technology and is frequently criticized for being wasteful and inefficient.
According to Wheeler, 80 percent of schools participating in E-Rate say their Internet speed is too slow to carry out their educational goals and only 50 percent of E-Rate’s funds are spent on broadband connectivity.
The FCC announced Monday that it will double its investment in high-speed Internet connectivity — from $1 billion to $2 billion — immediately by reorganizing how existing funds are spent. A broader restructuring of the program’s management aims to make more money available for broadband in schools in the long run.
“In my experience as a businessman I have often found the biggest immediate opportunities are unlocked by first looking carefully at how to do better with what you already have,” Wheeler said during his remarks at the Library of Congress.
The chairman did not rule out taking additional measures if necessary to increase funding for E-Rate, which could potentially mean a small increase in phone bills.
Jon Wilkins, acting managing director for managment at FCC and a former partner at McKinsey, is leading the review of the program. The agency will begin accepting public comments in the coming weeks and aims to issue an order later this spring, with the goal of having reforms in place by 2015.
These reforms are aimed at helping President Obama achieve his goal of connecting 99 percent of U.S. schools to high-speed Internet within 5 years, and come one day after the president announced $750 million worth of donations from the private sector to boost technology in schools.