Clyburn Remarks on Education Technology at Annenberg Event
Prepared Remarks of Acting Chairwoman Mignon L. Clyburn"Connected in the Digital Age: Improving American Education through Technology"
Hosted by the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands
September 10, 2013
Washington, DCThank you, Julius, for that introduction. Clearly, spending a summer away from the Commission agrees
with you. You look a bit younger. I look a bit... Anyway, I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish
together, and the initiatives I plan talk about today build on the foundation you laid during your
To the organizers, Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, Common Sense Media, the LEAD Commission, and
NewSchools Venture Fund, thank you for enabling us to highlight such a pivotal moment for our schools,
for industry stakeholders, for the future of education, for all of us. As you heard during the morning
sessions, and as many of you know from your personal experiences, technology has the power to
revolutionize education in America.
But this conference is being held because we recognize that we are not where we need to, be on digital
learning, both relative to other nations, and to the rate of technology adoption, in other sectors of society.
One of the biggest obstacles to seizing these opportunities is inadequate bandwidth at our schools and
libraries. Simply put, our schools need faster high-capacity connections, and they need them now.
This summer, when we launched a modernization of E-Rate, the FCC took an important step toward
ensuring that our schools and libraries have the tools they need to support modern digital learning.
E-rate is one of the FCC's biggest success stories.
Back in 1996, when less than 1 percent of the world's population was online, leaders at the White House,
FCC, and Congress, recognized that the Internet was a game-changer, and schools and libraries could
serve as an on-ramp for the nascent information superhighway. As part of the Telecommunications Act of
1996, a bipartisan coalition of Senators led by Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe as well as then
Representative Markey established E-Rate to ensure that kids in all areas of the country, including rural
areas, could get access to the Internet and advanced communications services.
As a result of E-rate, nearly every U.S. library and school is connected to the Internet.
For just one example of its impact, allow me to speak about Loris Elementary in my home state of South
Carolina. Loris is a town of about 2,400 people, almost half of whom live in poverty. But the local
elementary school is using technology to help their children rise above these circumstances. Every
student in grades three through five has been assigned a laptop, loaded with learning software.
Teachers are using digital tools to assess each student's progress in real time and offer differentiated
instruction to meet each student's individual needs. Now, test scores are up, and in state rankings of
similar schools, Loris Elementary rose from 41st into the top 20.
Places like Loris Elementary remind us that broadband has the potential to be the great equalizer for our
children. It doesn't matter whether you live in a rural, low-income area or in a wealthy urban community,
connecting a child to the Internet links them to cutting-edge instruction and new learning opportunities.
Our goal should be to make this the rule and not the exception.
We also need to ensure similar advances for libraries. These reference centers are key pieces of the
overall education picture, because they support kindergarten-through-12th grade students after school
hours, with online research resources, interactive online homework help, and digital learning labs. They
also support home-schooled students, distance learners, GED preparation and test-taking, job re-training,
and other lifelong learning.
While E-rate has been a success, it needs to be modernized to ensure all schools and libraries have the
capacity they need.
As educators increasingly integrate digital content into their lesson plans, faster speeds, and additional
capacity to and within schools are needed to accommodate all of today's and tomorrow's interactive,
digital learning. Although some schools have sufficient capacity to implement digital learning tools and
strategies, too many do not. In fact, in a 2010 FCC survey of schools and districts, nearly half of
respondents reported lower speed Internet connectivity than the average American home. Similarly, 41
percent of libraries reported that their connectivity was inadequate, and fewer than 10 percent of
America's libraries offer Internet speeds of 100Mbps or faster.
This is simply not good enough. We must do better for the nation's children and citizens. We must
ensure that our young people, teachers, and the millions of citizens that use libraries each year have
access to the tools they need to compete and succeed in the digital age. The U.S. will fall behind in the
21st century economy if our classrooms don't evolve beyond a 19th century model.
This summer, President Obama went to Mooresville High School in North Carolina, and issued a call for
action, to close our education system's bandwidth deficit. In fact, Mooresville's Superintendent Mark
Edwards was on the preceding panel, so many of you know why the President visited this school to
highlight the benefits of greater network capacity. While in North Carolina, the President announced his
ConnectED initiative and called on the FCC to bring high-speed Internet to 99% of U.S. students within
The FCC needs to modernize E-rate to answer the President's call.
We need to roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to ensure that our nation's schools and libraries have
the broadband connections needed, to meet their current and future requirements. The E-rate rulemaking
we launched in July is a critical first step.
Our key goals are clear: 1) connecting every student in America, by ensuing affordable access for schools
and libraries, to high-capacity broadband; 2) maximizing the cost effectiveness of purchases; and 3)
ensuring the administrative efficiency of E-rate.
What's not clear is how to achieve these goals. That's what we're trying to answer with our proceeding,
and that's where we need your help.
Good data drives good policy. And I'll be blunt. We need good data if we're going to get this right. We
need data when it comes to the bandwidth schools need for today's and tomorrow's digital learning tools.
We need data to understand how to cut costs, increase efficiency, streamline the program, and deliver that
broadband capacity to and within schools in the most cost-effective manner. Resources are not unlimited,
and we have a responsibility to be careful stewards of public resources. So we need to ensure that we're
getting the most bang for our E-Rate buck. We need to ensure that we're connecting as many children as
possible, that we leverage consortium and other bulk buying opportunities, that we phase out funding for
unnecessary services, and that we streamline and improve the administration of this program.
We need you to help us come up these answers. And by you, I'm not just talking about those who have
participated in previous E-Rate proceedings. I'm talking about innovators from Silicon Valley,
researchers, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders, who may not receive E-Rate funding,
but who have valuable information that will help the Commission ensure that all of America's children
will be prepared with the skills to enter and contribute to the digital economy.
Comments are due next week with reply comments following next month. So I strongly encourage all of
you to weigh in.
Maximizing participation in the FCC's proceeding will help us maximize the benefits of our E-Rate
Thank you all for being a part of today's conference, as well as this effort. By working together, we will
realize the promise of technology to improve U.S. education and expand opportunity, for future
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