FCC encourages use of broadband by schools and funding of broadband by government.

Among the array of ills which the FCC’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) addresses is the insufficiency of broadband in our schools.  The NBP therefore devotes considerable attention to Education. It begins by noting studies showing American students lagging far behind their counterparts in other advanced nations in math and science. The NBP’s solution, unsurprisingly, is more broadband. The NBP promotes the use of broadband-enabled resources for students, teachers and educational intuitions and proposes increased investment in broadband infrastructure. Specifically, the NBP recommends a collection of initiatives designed to: (1) support and promote online learning; (2) unlock the value of data and improve transparency; and (3) modernize educational broadband infrastructure.

The NBP strongly embraces online learning tools as both an in-class resource and a means of extending learning beyond the classroom. To promote online learning, the NBP’s recommendations include creating and implementing new standards and formats so that educational content can be more easily located and shared by educators. The plan also urges Congress to consider certain changes to copyright law to “encourage copyright holders to grant educational digital rights of use.” 

On the state and local level, the NBP recommends changes to accreditation programs to allow for more online instruction to count towards primary, secondary and post-secondary programs – allowing students in rural high schools, for instance, to take online AP courses from larger schools or even schools from other states. State and local school systems are also encouraged to include more “digital literacy” elements in their curricula. Finally, the NBP recommends increased funding from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and other federal agencies for research and development of online learning systems and teacher training in digital literacy.

The NBP notes that not only can information technology improve education but information about education can improve education. In that vein, it urges new and improved measures for capturing, storing and utilizing information about students, teachers, schools and educational resources. The NBP therefore recommends that DOE encourage the adoption of standards for electronic educational records, including standards for information sharing, privacy and data security. The NBP also recommends greater financial data transparency, with the goal of making educational spending and related data more publicly available to encourage analysis that may improve educational policy. 

Finally, the NBP includes a series of recommendations, many targeting the use of E-rate funding, to increase spending on educational broadband infrastructure. The E-rate program (or the Schools and Libraries universal service support program) allows schools and libraries to receive telecommunications services at discounted rates. Recommendations include:

  • Removing barriers to off-hours community use of E-rate funded resources.
  • Prioritizing E-rate support for broadband connectivity for schools and libraries.
  • Providing E-rate support for internal connections to schools and libraries.
  • Greater spending flexibility for E-rate applicants so that applicants can seek the lowest cost solutions.
  • Raising the cap on E-rate funding to account for inflation.
  • Streamlining the E-rate application process.
  • Collecting and publishing more information on E-rate spending.
  • Encouraging more cost-efficient broadband expenditures through the E-rate program by encouraging increased information sharing and collaboration among federal, state and local agencies.
  • Lowering barriers to E-rate eligibility for Tribal libraries.
  • Awarding E-rate funding to programs that incorporate broadband connectivity into the educational experience.
  • Using E-rate funding to support wireless connectivity to portable learning devices.
  • Congressional allocation of funds to provide and maintain broadband connections to public community colleges.

As with all elements of the NBP, the plan’s recommendations on education may see many changes as they proceed through the various rulemaking and legislative processes. Indeed, this may be even more true for education, which has a long history of local control and local policy taking precedence over federal plans and proposals.

[Blogmeister note: This is one in a series of posts describing the range of regulatory and societal areas in which the National Broadband Plan could, and likely will, affect us all. Click here to find other posts in this series.]