Commissioner Pai Statement on Broadband's Impact in South Dakota
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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May 29, 2014
Matthew Berry, (202) 418-2005
STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI
ON BROADBAND’S IMPACT ON SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES IN SOUTH DAKOTA
America needs to fully enter the digital age—and that starts with our nation’s schools and
libraries. I saw that for myself yesterday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
During my visit to Sioux Falls New Technology High School, I learned through meetings
with the principal and other school officials how the school integrates a one-to-one program—
that is, one device for each student—into the learning process. At the main branch of the
Siouxland Libraries, I got to see how Internet access empowers library patrons to apply for a job,
take a class, or do their homework.
Sioux Falls is no anomaly. It’s amazing what schools and libraries across South Dakota
have done with so little. Even though promoting broadband across 77,123 square miles is the
definition of a high-cost endeavor, South Dakota schools have received about 30% less per
student than New Jersey schools. And while the Siouxland Libraries stretch their resources so
thinly that some rural libraries only operate three hours a day, library officials told me that
they’ve given up applying for E-Rate funding because the process is so burdensome and the
rewards for rural libraries so few.
In sum, the E-Rate program just isn’t meeting the needs of rural America. E-Rate’s
funding formula favors larger, urban school districts that can afford to hire consultants to
navigate the administrative process and draw every dollar E-Rate makes available to them. In
contrast, E-Rate offers smaller, rural schools and libraries less funding, even when broadband
costs more for them and they don’t have the resources to hire outside help. A sad refrain I’ve
heard over and over is that applying for E-Rate funding just isn’t worth the effort. That’s a
digital divide we shouldn’t tolerate.
The FCC needs to reform E-Rate to make it more user-friendly and target the needs of
students and library patrons. We cannot expect those who teach our children and serve our
communities to master arcane rules that few lawyers or accountants can understand. They
And we can do better. A student-centered E-Rate program1 would cut the red tape. It
would end funding inequities and focus E-Rate on connecting citizens young and old to digital
opportunities. And it would bring more transparency to a process that is hopelessly opaque to
people in the Best Little City in America and beyond.
It’s time for real reform.
1 Remarks of Commissioner Ajit Pai, “Connecting the American Classroom: A Student-Centered E-Rate Program,”
American Enterprise Institute (July 16, 2013), available at http://go.usa.gov/jbD3.
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