Obama continues pitch to increase broadband access in schools

President Barack Obama speaks to guests gathered for a rally at a General Electric gas engines plant on January 30, 2014 in Waukesha, Wis., one of several events to press his post-State of the Union agenda.  Scott Olson, Getty Images

The president is looking for ways to increase screen time in the classroom – but without seeking any more money to do so from Congress.

During a visit to Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., Tuesday, Mr. Obama will highlight his ongoing ConnectED initiative to give 99 percent of American students access to high-speed broadband in schools within the next five years. Within the next two years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is actively involved in the initiative, will help connect more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students.

Boosting high-speed broadband access is just one of the goals Mr. Obama laid out in his 2014 State of the Union address that he said he would pursue with or without the help of Congress. In this case, the FCC has plans to double the amount of money dedicated for broadband grants – from $1 billion to $2 billion – by using leftover funds from previous years and shifting money away from services like dial-up internet that are rapidly becoming obsolete, according to the Washington Post.

On top of that, the president will announce Tuesday that private sector companies including Apple, Microsoft, Spring and Verizon and others have made commitments of about $750 million to provide products and services to the schools like iPads, math books, and copies of Microsoft Office that will supplement schools’ newfound broadband capabilities.

“Right now fewer than 30 percent of schools have the broadband they need to teach using today’s technology which creates real problems for learning,” said White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecelia Muñoz. She argued that these investments will offer “the potential to revolutionize how teaching and learning happen in the classroom” with technology helping teachers give more individualized attention to students and their pace of learning, among other things.

The FCC initiative and the private sector investments will speed up progress on the ConnectED program, which was initially announced last June. “That is breakthrough progress, the fact that…the FCC is taking efforts to accelerate this initiative without having to increase the deficit by a penny or even ask in this down payment for additional resources,” said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.

The president is leaning heavily on private-sector investment to see many of his education initiatives come to fruition such as increasing college access and graduation rates for low-income students and making higher education more affordable for all families. Other goals, such as increasing the availability of high-quality preschool across the country, will require cooperation and investments from Congress. With Republicans still searching for ways to cut spending, further spending is unlikely.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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