Internet access has become such a luxury to most that we often don’t think about the individuals who can’t go online. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to help some of these individuals and double their budget for high- speed Internet connections in schools and libraries over the next two years. President Barack Obama announced the plan during his State of the Union address.
The plan will provide broadband service for an estimated 20 million American students in 15,000 schools. This project will be financed by the revamped E-Rate program, and the FCC will increase annual spending by $1 billion. The funds will be used to boost broadband speeds and assist schools in receiving wireless service. According to the FCC, roughly half of schools receiving E-Rate funds are able to connect to the Internet at speeds of three megabits per second or less.
There was a wave of complaints by schools in the program that the Internet service was too slow to stream videos. The commission hopes to provide all schools access to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second by 2015, and connections of up to one gigabit per second by the end of the decade.
“This is a great development, especially for students and families in lower-income areas, who might not have access to wireless Internet technology,” Laurie Alfaro, a computing and digital media (CDM) lecturer at DePaul, said.
Alfaro believes that having access to high-speed Internet will allow students to view multimedia content and connect with subject matter from experts around the world. Aspiring minds will be able to research and access unlimited sources. She’s also excited that these efforts will ensure Internet accessibility for people with disabilities.
“I once taught at a school which had no Wi-Fi, and I had a disabled student in a wheelchair,” Alfaro said. “She had limited mobility and every day, when she came into the classroom, I had to pull out an Ethernet cable and help her plug in her laptop.”
This caused complications for Alfaro and her student, as sometimes the cable would get tangled in the student’s wheelchair. She believes if schools had access to wireless service, it would be much easier for disabled students to participate in class.
“That’s not the sort of thing most people would even think about,” Alfaro said. When asked about the increase to 100 megabits per second, Alfaro said she believes 10 megabits per second should be sufficient to access multimedia content such as video lecturers.
However, if speeds are slower than that, Alfaro believes students may experience buffering interruptions that can interfere with the content they’re receiving.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the E-Rate program is targeted toward non-profit K-12 schools as well as all public and many private libraries. Eligible schools and libraries must meet the definition of elementary school, secondary school or library as defined by U.S. legislation.