Obama to announce classroom broadband plan in North Carolina visit

With his legislative agenda largely stymied by a bitterly divided Congress, President Obama is taking what his aides are touting as a major executive action on Thursday to expand Internet connectivity in the nation’s schools.

Under the initiative, which Obama will lay out in an afternoon speech at a high-tech middle school in North Carolina, nearly all of the nation’s students will have access to high-speed broadband and wireless Internet at their schools within five years.

“This is about creating the platform and infrastructure for the president’s vision for the classroom of the 21st century,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity to brief reporters on the plan in advance of Obama’s announcement.

The program, called ConnectED, is part of Obama’s larger plan to expand high-speed Internet connections for 99 percent of students across the country, including to the most remote and sparsely populated regions.

Fewer than 20 percent of the nation’s educators believe that the Internet connections at their schools meet their teaching needs, according to White House aides. The aides said Obama will call on the Federal Communications Commission to use its existing E-Rate program to meet that goal and will tell other parts of the federal government to redirect resources toward classroom technology and teacher training.

Obama believes improving connectivity could be transformative for schools, allowing teachers and students to use personalized software, read up-to-date electronic texts and engage on Skype and other programs, according to senior administration officials. Other nations are significantly further ahead of the United States -- in South Korea, every school has high-speed Internet connectivity -- so Obama has ordered his administration to lead on this issue, the officials said.

To roll out the initiative, Obama will travel to Mooresville, N.C., and visit Mooresville Middle School to highlight the ways advanced classroom technology is helping students learn. In 2007, the school began what a second senior administration official called a “digital conversion that’s been the foundation of transformative change.”

Obama’s visit is the third stop on his “Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour,” in which he visits cities across the country to showcase economic success stories. Last month, Obama visited Austin, where he announced two executive actions designed to help boost the manufacturing economy, and Baltimore, where he toured an elementary school and a dredge equipment manufacturing facility.

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Aaron Blake · June 5, 2013