Tech CEOs push billions for Wi-Fi in schools

 

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Netflix’s Reed Hastings and HP’s Meg Whitman are among the tech CEOs urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide billions for Wi-Fi in schools and libraries.

The Commission is voting at its monthly meeting Friday on a plan from Chairman Tom Wheeler to boost Wi-Fi in schools and libraries.

“The message from America is clear, if our schools do not have the broadband they need, our students will not be able to compete in the global economy,” the CEOs said in a letter to FCC commissioners on Monday.

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Signatories also included current and former CEOs of YouTube, eBay, Adobe, Airbnb, Dell, Intuit, OpenTable, Salesforce.com, Xerox and prominent venture capital firms.

Wheeler’s plan would put $5 billion toward providing and upgrading Wi-Fi services and equipment over the next five years on top of the agency’s $2.4 billion annual budget for the E-Rate program, which works to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.

The agency has already set aside the first $2 billion and plans to provide the following $3 billion through eliminating inefficiencies in the program and phasing out non-Internet access services, including pagers.

Wheeler’s plan would also take steps to make E-Rate spending more transparent and improve the application process for funds.

While the plan has been hailed by some educators as a step towards a more connected future for U.S. students, others have lamented the plan’s Wi-Fi-only focus and are encouraging Commissioners to pressure Wheeler ahead of Friday’s vote.

Monday’s CEO letter pushed back on the criticism by calling Wheeler’s proposal “a significant, fiscally responsible step forward in modernizing the E-Rate program and connecting our schools.

“By responsibly investing $2 billion of unused funds and providing predictable ongoing support for Wi-Fi, the plan will make dramatic progress in bringing high-speed connectivity to our classrooms,” the CEOs said.

They urged the commissioners to take “swift, bipartisan action” to pass Wheeler’s proposal.