Friday, June 7, 2013

Obama Calls For Expanded E-Rate, Universal Classroom Broadband

President Obama’s call, during a visit to a school in Mooresville, North Carolina, for the nation to equip all schools with broadband access within the next five years generated significant national media coverage today. In general, the media is reporting the story in a neutral and fact-based tone. The New York Times (6/6, Calmes, Wyatt, Subscription Publication) reports that at the “innovative middle school,” Obama touted“the Internet-based education programs that he is proposing to make available nationwide.” Obama “called on the Federal Communications Commission to expand an existing program to provide discounted high-speed Internet service to schools and libraries, even if it meant increasing the fees that for years had been added to consumers’ phone bills.” Obama said the plan “could lead to better technology at 99 percent of schools in five years.” The Times quotes Obama saying, “There’s no reason why we can’t replicate the success you’ve found here. And for those of you who follow politics in Washington, here’s the best news — none of this requires an act of Congress.” The piece notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined Obama at the school, and that under the plan ED “would work with the FCC to revamp the initiative, known as the Schools and Libraries program or E-rate, to provide local schools with Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.” The Times adds that Duncan “said that he had learned of the innovations in Mooresville...because the local school superintendent was a friend.”

The AP (6/7, Superville) reports that Obama “says a new initiative called ConnectED would mean faster Internet connections for 99 percent of students within five years.” The article quotes Obama saying in a statement, “We are living in a digital age, and to help our students get ahead, we must make sure they have access to cutting-edge technology.” Noting that Administration officials said that the plan could be funded with “a new, temporary surcharge on phone bills,” the AP adds that officials “said faster, school-based Internet access can bring interactive, individualized learning to millions of students.” The AP quotes Duncan saying, “Some people ask if technology is going to replace teachers. That’s not ever going to happen. The answer is always great teachers.”

Bloomberg News (6/6, Lerer) reports that the appearance gave Obama “an make the case for his second-term economic agenda – – major pieces of which have faced stiff resistance from Congress – and offer less-sweeping proposals that don’t require congressional action.” Bloomberg characterizes the plan as a move to “modernize” the E-rate program, and notes that Mooresville Middle School, where Obama made the announcement, is “part of an education district known nationally for its digital-learning program. The school district hands a laptop to every child in grades four to 12, offers special teacher technology training, and uses a predominantly digital curriculum.”

The Los Angeles Times (6/6, Parsons) reports that in his comments, Obama “argued that such access would improve learning opportunities for students all over the country” and “noted that only about one-fifth of US students have high-speed Internet access in their classrooms, while every student in South Korea does.” The Times quotes Obama saying, “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools, right?” Meanwhile, Duncan “grinned when he noted that the support of Congress was not needed, calling that ‘a fantastic part of this.’”

Noting that Obama’s legislative agenda has been “largely stymied by a bitterly divided Congress,” the Washington Post (6/6, Rucker) reports that the President is “taking what his aides are touting as a major executive action on Thursday to expand Internet connectivity in the nation’s schools.” The Post adds that “senior administration officials” say that Obama “believes improving connectivity could be transformative for schools, allowing teachers and students to use personalized software, up-to-date electronic texts and engage on Skype and other programs.”

Duncan Promotes ConnectED.Appearing on CNN Newsroom (6/6, 9:16 a.m. EDT), Education Secretary Arne Duncan discusses the need for students to have access to broadband, and expresses his excitement about the proposal. He notes however, “There’s some hard work ahead of us. We along with the FCC have to take a look at what we’re doing. But think of the opportunities for students and teachers if we can get this right over the next three, four, five years.” Duncan points out that schools can’t afford to upgrade their broadband, and explains how the E-rate program can be tweaked to improve and hasten its work. Duncan also stresses the need for US students to have the same advantages as do those in South Korea.

Duncan relates a similar message on MSNBC Now With Alex Wagner (6/6, 10:34 a.m. EDT), expressing enthusiasm about the ConnectED program. Asked about paying for the program, Duncan points out the potential benefits of updating E-rate, working on efficiencies within the program, and possibly implementing “a small increases in fees to fund this.” More of this segment can be seen here.

The Wall Street Journal (6/7, Porter, Subscription Publication), the Huffington Post (6/6, Resmovits), the Reuters (6/6, Holland), the Charlotte (NC) Observer (6/6), the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer (6/6, Dunn), CNN (6/6, Aigner-treworgy), the Christian Science Monitor (6/6, Khadaroo), the Hispanic Business (6/7), the Davidson (NC) News (6/6, Boraks), WRAL-TV Raleigh, NC (6/7, Weiss), WFMY-TV Greensboro, NC (6/7, Mickens), and Venture Beat (6/6, Farr) also cover this story.

Costs May Stymie Plan.Politico (6/7, Boliek) reports that “officials said ConnectED would require a one-time infusion of capital that would cost individual Americans little. Administration officials expect to pay for part of the program through savings rung out of the Universal Service Fund.” The piece notes however the FCC sources believe that this “isn’t going to be enough to increase capacity for all the schools and educational institutions that may want it,” in that “requests from schools already exceed the amount available from the $2.3 billion-dollar E-Rate fund.”

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