FCC: 43M students to benefit from Wheeler’s Wi-Fi plan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is touting a new proposal from Chairman Tom Wheeler to get Wi-Fi in schools, saying that more than 43 million students would benefit from the plan.

Under Wheeler’s proposal to funnel billions of dollars into Wi-Fi equipment over the coming years, almost 160,000 libraries and 43 million students at more than 100,000 schools will get funding for Wi-Fi access, according to a new report released by the agency Tuesday.

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“Bringing wireless connectivity, through Wi-Fi, fundamentally changes the classroom from one that is static and restrictive to one that is dynamic and expansive,” the report said.

Wheeler announced his proposal earlier this month, and it will be voted on at the agency’s July open meeting next week.

The proposal comes after pressure from the Obama administration to increase connectivity in schools, including through the FCC’s E-Rate program, which focuses on connecting schools and libraries to the Internet.

Wheeler’s new plan would direct $2 billion of unused funding to Wi-Fi equipment and service in schools and libraries over the next two years and would commit to similar funding levels for the following three years.

That funding for Wi-Fi is on top of the E-Rate’s budget, which has been about $2.4 billion annually.

According to the FCC report, over the next five years, the increased funding will go toward Wi-Fi upgrades for 43,636,879 students in 102,150 schools that had not received Wi-Fi funding over the last five years.

The funding, over the next five years, will also go to 15,989 libraries that had not received it over the last five years.

Wheeler’s proposal was met with some pushback from education and library associations, who urged the FCC to focus on basic connectivity before directing large amounts of funding to Wi-Fi.

Tuesday’s report stressed that Wi-Fi funding is one of many facets of improving connectivity in schools and libraries.

“Wi-Fi upgrades are by no means the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to connecting all students to the benefits of digital learning and supporting all libraries in bringing robust connectivity to their communities,” the report said.

“But by acting now, the FCC can move forward on these critical program updates this summer, even as it continues to work on other aspects of modernizing this large, complex, but vital program for 21st Century learning.”