Today, President Obama announced a new federal initiative known as ConnectED, which is intended to connect virtually all K-12 schools to the digital age.  At the heart of the initiative is President Obama’s call for the FCC to modernize and leverage the existing E-Rate program “within five years, [to] connect 99 percent of America’s students, through next-generation broadband (at speeds no less than 100 Mbps and with a target of 1 Gbps) to, and high-speed wireless within, their schools and libraries.

ConnectED is, without question, an ambitious initiative.  According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, there are nearly 100,000 public K-12 schools and approximately 33,000 private K-12 schools in the United States.  Achieving broadband connectivity to virtually all of these institutions – particularly those in rural areas where broadband infrastructure often is limited – within five years will be an enormous undertaking.  The White House announcement is short on details, and important questions – such as the extent to which near-universal broadband school connectivity will be funded – will be delegated to the FCC.

The other major components of the ConnectED initiative include the following:

  • Teacher Training:  The White House expects the Department of Education to work with states and school districts to improve the skills of teachers to use education technology to enhance student learning.
  • Private Sector Innovation:  The White House anticipates that universal broadband connectivity to U.S. schools will provide a critical mass to accelerate private sector development in – and lower the cost of – digital education devices and digital educational content.

FCC action in response to this high-profile White House initiative is expected soon.