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Obama plan would expand Internet access for schools

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

President Obama will visit a school in North Carolina Thursday to highlight what aides call a "bold" plan to expand high-speed Internet access to nearly all K-12 schools within five years.

The trip to a middle school in Mooresville, N.C., is part of Mr. Obama's "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour," his fourth such excursion in recent weeks designed to pressure congressional Republicans to approve his economic agenda.

But the proposal that Mr. Obama is to highlight Thursday, called ConnectEd, wouldn't require legislative action. Instead, the president will ask the Federal Communications Commission to reform its existing "E-rate" program, a discounted telecommunications rate for schools and libraries, to expand Internet connectivity to more schools.

"The president is now asking the FCC to move forward with speed and force," said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said the White House doesn't expect the government to spend more money on the proposal, although he said, "It's certainly possible" the FCC could decide that the plan requires more federal funds for a few years.

E-rate discounts depend on the level of poverty and whether the school or library is located in an urban or rural area. The discounts range from 20 to 90 percent of the costs of eligible services.

The administration official said the plan encompasses Mr. Obama's "vision of the classroom of the 21st century." He said fewer than 20 percent of teachers say their school's Internet connection meets their teaching needs.

"Preparing America's students with the skills they need to get good jobs and compete with countries around the world will rely increasingly on interactive, individualized learning experiences driven by new technology," the White House said in a statement. "ConnectEd will bring high-speed Internet within their reach, with a particular benefit for rural communities that have lagged behind in connectivity."

From North Carolina, Mr. Obama will fly to California later Thursday, where he will hold several fundraisers for Democratic congressional candidates and then take part in two days of meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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