President Announces New School Broadband Effort

In the State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama announced that the FCC and some major telecoms and edge providers were getting together to help connect 15,000 schools to high-speed broadband.

"Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years," he said. "Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit."

In an accompanying fact sheet, the White House said that in the coming weeks the President would announce "new philanthropic partnerships" with those and other companies on wired and wireless broadband deployment to schools.

It also pointed out that the President had announced his ConnectEd initiative in June, with the goal of connecting 99% of students to next-generation broadband in five years. The FCC then followed up in August with a proposal to monitor the E-rate program, the subsidy for advanced telecommunications to schools, libraries and other anchor institutions.

Not long after the announcement of the new effort, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was a tech policy adviser to candidate Obama and President Obama, released a statement saying the FCC stood with the President on promoting digital education.  

"Harnessing the power of digital technology is central to improving our education system and our global competitiveness," said Wheeler. "In the Internet age, every student in America should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive. The Federal Communications Commission shares the President's commitment to seizing the opportunities of digital learning, which is why we've already launched an effort to modernize our successful E-Rate program – the nation's largest education technology program.

"By applying business-like management practices to E-Rate, we can take steps this year that will make existing funds go farther to significantly increase our investment in high-speed broadband connectivity for schools and libraries for the benefit of our students and teachers. Together, with my fellow Commissioners, Congress, educators and other stakeholders, we can ensure that all of America's students get a 21st-century education."

The President also called for more federally funded research for "ideas and inventions" like Google and smartphones, and for patent reform legislation "that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation."

That was a reference to so-called "patent troll" legislation supporting a crackdown on meritless cases that discourage innovation.

Notable for its absence during the SOTU was any mention of the state of the network neutrality rules, which he supported as both candidate and President, or the NSA data collection issue.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) noted the absence of the latter in no uncertain terms.

"The State of the Union offered President Obama an opportunity to clear the air on outstanding surveillance issues that were not addressed in his recent reform speech. Chief among these is the government's introduction of vulnerabilities in cryptographic standards and commercial products. Unfortunately, this did not occur," said ITIF senior analyst Daniel Castro. "As long as these questions go unanswered, U.S. technology companies will face a disadvantage in global markets and lose market share to foreign competitors. The President has declared that 2014 should be a year of action. He does not need to wait for Congress to affirm clearly and unequivocally that the policy of the United States is to strengthen, not weaken, cyber security."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.