April 10, 2014 - 12:35 pm
Last month, I was honored to meet with Tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians’ annual conference to discuss the FCC’s commitment to a reinvigorated Tribal consultation process focused on improving access to modern communications in Indian Country. Acting on this commitment, yesterday, I took my first trip to Indian Country as FCC Chairman, visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I had several meetings with Oglala Lakota leaders to discuss topics ranging from economic development to healthcare, but the greatest emphasis of my visit was education, specifically how the FCC’s E-Rate program can help expand digital learning opportunities, including for our nation’s rural and Tribal populations. I heard from teachers, students, and administrators at Loneman School and Little Wound School about how E-Rate has helped provide basic Internet access to their school, but also how E-Rate can, and needs to do even more. In particular, these schools need more bandwidth to enable opportunities like remote tutoring and taking advanced math and science courses online, and they need Wi-Fi connectivity that can support mobile devices like tablets and digital textbooks. They also need an E-Rate program that’s more user-friendly. In the past, Loneman, like too many schools, missed out on E-Rate support because of confusion with the program’s rules. All of our students, whether they are attending a Tribal school in South Dakota or a public school in South Carolina deserve to have full access to modern digital learning tools. That’s why modernizing E-Rate to simplify the program, improve its efficiency, and deliver faster, Wi-Fi connectivity to schools and libraries is one of the Commission’s highest priorities. Digital learning can be a great equalizer for places like Pine Ridge, helping to overcome the history of isolation that has limited opportunity in Tribal communities. I will carry the lessons of this visit with me, as we move forward in our work to modernize E-Rate and harness the power of education technology for all our children.