Local school officials push FCC to expand broadband subsidies

A group of school superintendents is urging the Federal Communications Commission to include broadband service in a program that provides phone subsidies for low-income people.

“As school and district leaders, we urge the Federal Communications Commission ... to continue its support of the Lifeline program and to modernize and expand the program to support broadband internet access,” said almost 200 school district leaders in a letter to the commission released Wednesday.

The letter, which was written in September but made public on Wednesday, was put together by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission.

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The superintendents said “much of the advantage of education technology lies in student access to information and education tools outside of the classroom.”

“Sadly, many students do not have broadband access at home and cannot complete assignments and supplement their learning outside school,” they said. “If the nation wants to produce globally competitive graduates with twenty-first-century skills and competencies, this ‘homework gap’ must be addressed.”

Under a plan the FCC moved forward with earlier this year, subsidies under the Lifeline program that currently pay for phone service could also be applied to broadband. Though an earlier vote allowed the commission to move forward with the idea, they will need to vote to adopt any final plan.

Supporters say that it would connect poor Americans with the Internet service they need. But opponents say the program is a magnet for fraud that should be reformed before it is expanded.

The FCC already administers a program called E-Rate that connects schools and libraries with broadband service. More broadly, the Obama administration has made enhancing the technological capabilities of low-income schools a priority. Earlier this year, President Obama announced that publishers would donate $250 million in e-books to low-income schools.