Commissioner Pai Remarks at E-Rate Modernization Workshop
REMARKS OF FCC COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI
AT THE FCC’S E-RATE MODERNIZATION WORKSHOP
MAY 6, 2014Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the San Fernando Institute for Applied Media (SFIAM).
It’s a middle school that is using technology to transform the way students learn. Each student at SFIAM
has an iPad, and classrooms are connected to the Internet using WiFi. The school illustrates what the
FCC’s E-Rate program can mean for American education in the 21st century.
Here’s an example. During my visit, I sat in on Mr. Peña’s 8th grade class. The class was
studying world religions, and that day they were learning about Islam. Soon after I entered the classroom,
Mr. Peña introduced the concept of “tessellation.” I had never heard of the word, but that was soon to
Here’s what’s neat about the way I—and Mr. Peña’s students—learned about tessellation. He
asked the students to input the term into Google Images on their iPads. He then asked the students to
describe what they saw and why they thought Islamic art and architecture used tessellation so extensively.
In their own words—and I confess I did the exercise in my own mind!—the students described an
infinitely recurring series of geometric shapes. They then surmised, correctly according to Mr. Peña, that
it was used to exemplify the infinite power of God.
Now when I was a grade-school student back in the 1970s and 1980s, I might have learned about
tessellation from a teacher lecturing at the front of the room. And I probably would have taken notes
passively with my No. 2 pencil. But the SFIAM model is so much more interactive and engaging. I’m
pretty confident that those kids didn’t just hear, but learned—that they will retain more knowledge thanks
to a technology-based approach.
After leaving Mr. Peña’s classroom, I had an opportunity to meet with SFIAM parents, along
with Principal Robledo, officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the California Emerging
Technology Fund, and the Youth Policy Institute. The parents told me that the school’s embrace of
technology had had a huge and positive impact on their children. The others suggested that there was
even more they could do with a modernized E-Rate program.
What I heard at SFIAM wasn’t an anomaly. Parents everywhere expect that schools will help
prepare their children for the America of tomorrow, and they know that can’t happen in a classroom of
yesterday. Filmstrips of the moon landing don’t cut it when YouTube carries video from the Curiosity
Rover on Mars. Oregon Trail doesn’t suffice when the Khan Academy and Coursera offer interactive
classes for students. We all know that Internet access can provide teachers a quick and easy way to
introduce students to an amazing array of materials—materials never imagined when I was in grade
school—and yet we also know that we’re not there yet.
That’s why the E-Rate program, and our work to reform and modernize it, is so important. Over
the next five years, the E-Rate program will collect and distribute over $12 billion to fund information
technology in our nation’s schools and libraries. That’s real money—$3 billion more than we committed
to the Connect America Fund last month—and it’s a real chance for us to make a difference.
The FCC needs to seize this opportunity for the kids of the 21st century. We should not settle for
the existing system and just tinker around the edges—we need real reform. We need a student-centered
E-Rate program that focuses on the needs of children. We need a program that replaces today’s
complexity with simplicity, one that cuts red tape and makes it easier for schools and libraries to apply.
We need a program that more fairly distributes E-Rate funds and puts small, rural schools and libraries on
equal footing with their larger, more urban brethren. We need a program that promotes more careful
spending, with additional transparency so that parents, educators, and the FCC can see how E-Rate
funding is being spent.
Whether you call these reforms a student-centered E-Rate program, the ConnectED Initiative, E-
Rate modernization, or E-Rate 2.0, the goal of meaningful change is shared by all schools and libraries,
by service providers and equipment vendors, by Democrats and Republicans, by Commissioners and
staff. The primary question at this point is how to achieve that goal. And that’s where you come in.
Today’s workshop can light a path forward. We already have a substantial record of almost 2,500
comments telling us that we need to update the 18-year-old E-Rate program. I hope you will build on that
record. Help us make sure that the reforms we enact will bring the full promise of digital opportunity to
America’s children. Just imagine the impact if every teacher in every classroom in our country were able
to do what Mr. Peña does!