President Obama views a math project during a tour of Mooresville Middle… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)
MOORESVILLE, N.C. – President Obama on Thursday pledged to bring high-speed Internet to nearly all students in their classrooms within five years, calling on the Federal Communications Commission to expand an existing initiative that will help school systems cover the cost.
Speaking to students at Mooresville Middle School, Obama argued that such access would improve learning opportunities for students all over the country. “We can’t be stuck in the 19th century when we’re living in a 20th-century economy,” he said. “That step will better prepare our children for the jobs of the future.”
Obama noted that only about one-fifth of U.S. students have high-speed Internet access in their classrooms, while every student in South Korea does. “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn't we have it in our schools, right?” he asked.
Obama wants the FCC to expand a program that helps reduce the cost of Internet connections for schools and libraries through a fee paid by telecommunications companies. The president set a goal of providing high-speed Internet service within five years to 99% of U.S. students.
Mignon Clyburn, the acting chair of the commission, whose members are appointed by Obama, said the agency has already been looking at ways to use the program to increase broadband access at schools. “I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners and the many stakeholders as we answer the president’s call to modernize this vital program,” she said in a statement.
The president’s proposal, which the administration is calling “ConnectED,” would not require congressional approval. Obama can’t pass much, if anything, through the divided Congress.
Explaining the plan on Air Force One, Education Secretary Arne Duncan grinned when he noted that the support of Congress was not needed, calling that "a fantastic part of this."
Obama had a little trouble keeping the students' attention during his address in the steamy middle-school gym on the day before school lets out for the summer. When a couple of audience members swooned, the crowd briefly focused on that drama rather than on Obama's speech.
In the end, though, he got them to applaud when he explained he doesn't have to wait for permission to give them better Internet access. “We can, and we will, get started right away," he said.
That set off a short chant from the crowd. "Yes we can! Yes we can!" they shouted.
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