Obama touts plan for high-speed Internet in nation’s schools

President Obama on Thursday announced a new initiative designed to bring high-speed Internet access to public schools all across the country.

In a speech at a middle school in Mooresville, N.C., Obama said he would call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand a program that subsidizes Internet access with the goal of wiring 99 percent of schools with high-speed connectivity within the next five years.

ADVERTISEMENT
"In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why wouldn't we have it in our schools?" Obama said. "Why wouldn't we have it available for our children's education?"

The president noted that every school in South Korea had access to high-speed Internet, while the average American school, servicing hundreds of students, had bandwidth capabilities roughly equivalent to the average American home.

Earlier Thursday, administration officials touted the plan, saying that next-generation Internet speeds will allow students to download up-to-date learning materials, stream educational videos and chat with other students around the world on Skype.

"Imagine a young boy with a chronic illness that confines him to his home able to join his classmates for every lesson," Obama said.

The plan does not require congressional approval. Instead, the White House is calling on the FCC to expand E-Rate, an existing program that subsidizes Internet access in schools and libraries.

E-Rate is funded through fees on monthly telephone bills. White House officials said they expect the president's plan would add no more than 40 cents to every phone bill per month for the next few years.

The White House argues that the additional funding for Internet service will spur the private sector to develop new educational technologies.

Under the president's plan, the Department of Education would work with school districts to train teachers on how to best use new technologies in the classroom.

The FCC is an independent bipartisan agency and will need to vote to approve any changes to its E-Rate program.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn applauded the president for his "bold vision," and said she looks forward to "working with my fellow Commissioners and the many stakeholders as we answer the president’s call to modernize this vital program.”

“For America to compete in the 21st century, we need to make sure all of our children and their teachers have access to the best learning technology," she said.

In his remarks, President Obama did not address new reports that the National Security Agency was analyzing domestic phone call records as part of an anti-terror operation.

The president's remarks were also interrupted when one person in the gymnasium fainted. The president, himself perspiring notably, suggested that attendees bend at the knees to avoid fainting.

"I'm just giving you a tip so you don’t faint, which happens all the time, and it’s really embarrassing," Obama said.

This story was first published at 6:00 a.m. and has been updated.

More in Technology

Week ahead: FCC to review standards for high-speed Internet

Read more »