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FCC to Spend $2 Billion to Improve Wi-Fi in Schools


The Federal Communications Commission plans to spend $2 billion in the next two years to ensure American students have access to fast Wi-Fi networks at schools and libraries.

Schools have complained for years that their Internet connections are too slow to take advantage of new educational tools. Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his long-awaited plan to revamp the E-Rate program, which funds communications services at schools and libraries. The FCC plans to spend $1 billion in both 2015 and 2016 to connect an additional 10 million students to Wi-Fi, and will wind down funding for landlines, pagers and other non-broadband services.

“New technologies like tablets and digital textbooks are providing great new opportunities for individualized learning and research,” the FCC wrote in a blog post Friday. “Effective use of this technology requires individual connections in schools and libraries to personal devices, and Wi-Fi is the most cost-effective way to provide connectivity.”

The post went on to say that three out of five schools don’t have the Wi-Fi capacity to use the new tools.

E-Rate is funded through a monthly fee on phone service of about $2.90 per household or user. FCC officials said that fee should not rise, even though the agency plans to spend the additional $2 billion on supporting Wi-Fi networks. The rest of the program’s annual budget—roughly $2.3 billion—will be focused solely on supporting broadband access.

The FCC also plans to streamline the application process for schools and libraries and crack down on fraud and abuse. The changes would take effect for the 2015 funding year, which should allow schools to upgrade or deploy Wi-Fi networks by the 2015-2016 school year.



The Wall Street Journal June 20, 2014



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