Also see: New America’s policy brief on E-rate reform, Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning: A Vision for a 21st Century E-rate Program, by clicking here.
Increasingly, we live in a world where the vision of “traditional” classroom education is changing. New technologies enable learning in a variety of locations and contexts throughout a community, not only during school hours but far beyond. The information revolution has created opportunities for learners of all ages to take advantage of new digital tools that offer individualized instruction, supplemental study materials, and continuing education resources. As a result, the need for truly connected communities is urgent.
Yet many communities lack robust Internet connectivity, which is a key prerequisite to using these tools. Libraries and schools across the country report that they do not have the necessary speeds and equipment to support the digital learning environments of today, let alone tomorrow. Sustaining and upgrading the Internet infrastructure that supports these community anchor institutions is critical. And in addition to physical infrastructure, these communities need investments in social infrastructure: support systems in and around community institutions that help facilitate digital literacy, support broadband access, and encourage meaningful broadband adoption.
The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering ways to modernize its E-rate program, which subsidizes telecommunications and Internet services for schools and libraries across the country. As many observers have noted, the challenge that institutions receiving E-rate funding today face is not simply connectivity—it’s sufficient capacity. Building this capacity is critical in creating connected communities, especially for students and families that may not have Internet access at home. The E-rate program should be updated in a way that ensures that all students and families have access to educational resources that enable them to develop 21st century skills. Strong, equitable Internet infrastructure in our schools and libraries should be an integral part of the continuing push for equity, excellence and innovation in our educational system.
This event will include a panel discussion by experts across the fields of education, library sciences, and technology. Panelists will discuss the current school and library technology landscape, the capacity needs of schools and libraries now and in the future, and what policies we need to get there.