Obama praises ‘down payment’ on school broadband

Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and other technology companies have teamed up with the Obama administration to make a “down payment” on an effort to ensure virtually all American children have broadband Internet access, President Obama said on Tuesday.

During his State of the Union address, the president lauded the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) progress on its school broadband initiative, known as the E-Rate program.

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“Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years,” he said.

“Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.”

In coming weeks, Obama will announce additional philanthropic partnerships to support the effort, the White House said.

The FCC’s E-Rate program gives discounts of up to 90 percent to help schools and libraries hook up to the Internet. The effort is funded through fees on monthly telephone bills.

In a speech at a Mooresville, N.C., middle school last summer, Obama announced his plans to expand the program. He said that the FCC’s push would encourage private companies to develop new educational technologies.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission has made a point to make the program as efficient as possible.

“By applying business-like management practices to E-Rate, we can take steps this year that will make existing funds go farther to significantly increase our investment in high-speed broadband connectivity for schools and libraries for the benefit of our students and teachers,” he said in a statement after Obama’s remarks.

“In the Internet age, every student in America should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive,” Wheeler added.

In the State of the Union, Obama said that the E-Rate program, along with education reforms and changes to the student loan program, is part of “guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.”

The president also pushed for universal preschool and additional legislation to help graduates struggling with student loan debt.

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