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FCC Appoints Director of Digital Learning

By Sean Cavanagh and guest blogger Victoria O'Dea

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has announced the appointment of Michael Steffen as the Director of Digital Learning, a newly created position at the agency with a focus on expanding Internet access in the nation's schools.

Steffen will work with agency officials, and across government and the private sector to "modernize broadband infrastructure in U.S. schools and libraries," the agency said in a statement.

He joined the commission in 2009, and he has most recently served as legal advisor to the chairman on wireline, international, and Internet policy issues. In that role, Steffen oversaw all FCC activities related to the Universal Service program's funding for schools and libraries, coordinated education technology and connectivity issues across government, and served as the commission's liaison to private sector and non-profit initiatives.

The FCC regulates interstate communications. It oversees the federal E-rate program, established by Congress in 1996, which receives funding through fees on telecommunications providers and supports communications services, including Internet service, in the nation's schools and libraries.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement this week that Steffan's appointment comes at a "critical moment for education technology."

He described the move as a continuation of the FCC's efforts to focus on improving school's online access. Last year, for instance, the FCC joined with the U.S. Department of Education, the ed-tech industry, and nonprofit organizations to support the Digital Textbooks Initiative, to give all students access to digital learning materials within five year, the chairman noted.

"Broadband and digital tools have game-changing potential for education," Genachowski said. "Our significant E-Rate reforms in 2010 were a strong start to lower costs and expand broadband access to schools and library, but we're going to need to take some more big steps to unlock the opportunity of digital learning."

The move comes the week after an FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, called for overhauling the federal E-rate program to meet the rising demands in the nation's schools for reliable Web access to meet testing, instructional, and other needs.

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