Thursday, June 20, 2013

"President Obama's Plan to 'Connect' America's Youth to the Future"


President Calls for 99 percent of U.S. Students to be Outfitted with High-Speed Broadband by 2018

By Thomas Dortch, Founder and Chairman, National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc.

For those of us who graduated more than a few years ago, this may come as a surprise, but high-speed Internet service is now an essential educational tool for students from Tuscaloosa, AL to Pullman, WA. A recent report by the Pew Research Center confirms that 76 percent of teachers now require at least some homework be completed online. This can pose a challenge to students who don’t have high-speed Internet access at home.

Pew researchers report that middle and high school teachers estimate that only 18 percent of their students have sufficient access to necessary Internet and digital tools in their homes. Additionally, a 2011 FCC study found that over 80 percent of schools and libraries consider their current broadband service—both speed and capacity—to be inadequate. However, President Obama has a plan and is working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement it nationwide.

Last week at Mooresville Middle School in North Carolina, President Obama unveiled his ‘ConnectED’ initiative for outfitting America’s classrooms with 21st century broadband service. He called on the FCC to modernize an existing program and to expand lightning-fast broadband connectivity to reach more students in more areas. Through his “ConnectED” initiative, the President hopes to bring next-generation Internet access to 99 percent of K–12 students within five years.

As chairman of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation, an organization that works to implement educational programs that ensure the success of our nation’s future leaders, I applaud the President’s efforts to expand access to this vital educational tool. Many minority students still struggle to reach college, and expanded access to high-speed broadband will help all students better prepare for college, and for all of their educational endeavors. With reliable, fast Internet service, students can easily access distance learning and online Advanced Placement courses, and homework help is just a click away. More importantly, this educational tool has the power to motivate and stimulate students by making learning more accessible and fun. High-speed Internet service can also help students find information about scholarships, college fairs, and opportunities available to them through organizations like the Hall of Fame.

But President Obama’s plan to expand Internet access should be only a first step: Certainly we must make sure that our classrooms are outfitted with this essential service, but students aren’t the only ones who need access to 21st century broadband. After all, learning doesn’t end with high school graduation, and broadband access can deliver opportunities and new possibilities to all people and to all communities.

Broadband access is an essential tool for success in our digital age. A modern, fast broadband connection allows people to access news and information, find jobs, and discover training or higher education opportunities. People from all walks of life can benefit from a reliable, fast connection that delivers exciting and useful possibilities for social and professional networking, lifelong learning, and civic engagement. For entrepreneurs or small businesses, high-speed broadband offers a chance to compete, to expand, and to connect with resources or customers from all around the world. This technology also offers numerous possibilities for better health and wellness, economic growth and stability, improved quality of life, and equality of opportunity.

Our government must work to ensure that all people can access the possibilities that these networks afford. The availability of an expanded, next-generation broadband infrastructure—able to deliver the services, capabilities, and speeds of tomorrow—will make new things possible for our nation. Expanding and upgrading our country’s broadband networks, both wireline and wireless, will encourage economic growth and job creation as well as help secure America’s global leadership position. Additionally, enhanced and expanded broadband networks can support important national programs and initiatives, including ConnectED.

Accelerating the transition to enhanced, expanded broadband networks will require updated regulations tailored to 21st century technologies. Modernizing these rules will fuel innovation and encourage broadband providers to increase their already significant investment into the broadband infrastructure and our economy. Our government must also ensure that the upcoming spectrum auction is fair and open, and that all qualified bidders have equal opportunity to acquire the necessary airwaves for expanding their wireless networks.

It’s time to get serious about increasing everyone’s access to opportunities. Advanced, next-generation broadband connectivity is a critical educational tool for our students, but it is also an essential tool that can help all people accomplish goals and achieve successes. Expanding access to upgraded, 21st century networks will help our country and our youth meet and exceed the challenges of tomorrow.

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