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Twenty schools, libraries to receive pilot E-rate funding to expand wireless reach to students

The FCC last week said it would provide E-rate funding for 20 schools and libraries during a digital roundtable discussion at the iSchool in New York City.

According to a commission press announcement, the 2011 “Learning On-The-Go” wireless pilot program will help K-12 students connect to the Internet at home and increase their access to digital textbooks, interactive learning tools and other wireless technologies.

The projects build on the FCC’s modernization of its E-rate program resulting from National Broadband Plan recommendations by supporting off-campus, mobile Internet connections for students. Previously, the E-rate program supported on-campus connectivity only.

According to a 2010 E-rate survey, about 50 percent of the schools and libraries that responded indicated they plan to implement or expand the use of digital textbooks and other wireless devices for digital learning, the commission said.

The FCC wants to increase the percentage of schools and libraries across the country using mobile broadband. Mobile learning devices enable teachers and parents to tailor school curriculum and interactive learning to students’ skill sets. Digital textbooks never go out of date, and students will have greater opportunities to access the latest educational curriculum available, the commission announcement said. New wireless devices and applications will also help teachers integrate school and homework assignments for students, creating greater efficiency.

Qualified pilot programs will be funded in the 2011-12 school year, assuming compliance with all other program requirements.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, recent studies by the National Training and Simulation Association in Arlington, VA, and others have shown that technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach an objective by 30 to 80 percent, the commission said.

The FCC will evaluate the effectiveness of the wireless pilot program to determine whether and how off-premises wireless services should be eligible for continued E-rate support, the announcement said.