American schools are set to receive billions in federal dollars to bring Wi-Fi to more kids.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today approved, by a 3-2 vote, a new plan that will deploy $2 billion over a two-year period to bring increased wireless Internet capabilities to schools. The program will impact at least 10 million kids each year.
The larger E-Rate program that helped get nearly all American schools Internet access has an annual budget of $2.4 billion. The Wi-Fi monies come on top of that tally.
It almost didn’t happen. Republican members of the Commission found the original $5 billion plan too expensive, and Democrats wanted the full amount. The smaller figure failed to unite the opposing sides, and the final vote was executed according to party affiliation.
Complaint was also raised about how the money would be spent in terms of the breakdown of its rural and urban divide, and whether the new plan sufficiently reformed the bureaucratic overhead that the E-Rate program currently endures. Spoiler: Not everyone is convinced.
Despite complaint from various angles, the Democratic portion of the Commission managed to find enough common ground to pass the effort.
In the end, FCC Chairman Wheeler stated that passing the plan was a “good day’s work,” given the impact it will have on kids. That’s correct, but there is enough tang in the vote to indicate that something bigger was perhaps within reach.