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FCC Chief Expects E-Rate Changes

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday praised proposed changes to the FCC's E-rate program that he said are expected to pass at Thursday's commission meeting in Washington.

The changes, which include plans to support off-campus wireless connectivity for mobile learning devices, help schools connect to the Internet via fiber networks, and enable the possibility of creating "school spots" where schools can use E-rate funds to provide Internet access to the community after hours, were outlined in a keynote speech at a Common Sense Media forum on digital learning, hosted at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

The E-rate program, which was established by Congress in the 1990s to provide schools and libraries discounts for Internet access, has helped 97 percent of American schools and nearly all public libraries gain Web access. But since the FCC's National Broadband Plan was released in March, there has been hope from technology advocates that it could be restructured to meet changing education technology needs.

"The program has met its goals that were set up in a dial-up world," Genachowski said. "But of course it needs to be taken to the next level now that it's in a broadband world."

One of the most interesting of the possible provisions is a plan to better enable learning via mobile computing devices. Many of the folks I talked to for a story about mobile learning in our upcoming issue of Digital Directions said they longed for changes to the E-rate program that would help them expand mobile learning programs using school-issued devices. Currently such devices cannot be taken home if purchased under the E-rate program.

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