Government Technology

School Internet Access Plan Circumvents Congress

President Obama in a classroom with kids

August 14, 2013 By

A multibillion-dollar White House plan for a major expansion of high-speed Internet access in schools came out earlier this summer. The improved connectivity from the ConnectEd program would enable teachers to customize instruction in unprecedented ways and students to use electronic tools like digital notebooks. According to a report in The Washington Post, the president could bypass Congress entirely to raise the $4 billion to $6 billion it would take to fund the endeavor.

ConnectEd would be funded by additional fees levied on cellphone users — approximately $12 per person over a three-year period. Approval for such a plan relies not on Congress, but rather on the independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Opponents, who take issue with the increased costs for consumers and the fact that the project bypasses Congress, have vowed to hold hearings and exert pressure on the FCC to reject the plan.  

“Using the FCC as a way to get around Congress to spend money that Congress doesn’t have the political will to spend — I think that’s very scary,” Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a former FCC commissioner, told The Post. “Constitutionally, it’s Congress that decides how federal funds should be spent.”

Some view the ConnectEd program, which would bring high-speed Internet to 99 percent of schools within five years, as an important component of President Obama's second-term legacy. A June visit to a school in Mooresville, N.C., to announce the program received little attention at the time, overshadowed by leaked details of the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program.

“How do we make sure Americans have the chance to earn the best skills and education possible?” Obama asked students and teachers during the visit to Mooresville. “At a moment when the rest of the world is trying to out-educate us, we’ve got to make sure that our young people — all you guys — have every tool that you need to go as far as your talents and your dreams and your ambitions and your hard work will take you.”

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