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FCC funding to help California schools speed up Internet connections



File: A decision by the Federal Communications Commission to boost funding for its E-rate program will help improve Internet speeds at the nation's schools and libraries, including those in California.
File: A decision by the Federal Communications Commission to boost funding for its E-rate program will help improve Internet speeds at the nation's schools and libraries, including those in California.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

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The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to designate $1.5 billion each year to help public schools improve Wi-Fi access in classrooms and libraries, including those in California.

The action will likely increase consumer phone bills by $2 a year per phone, the Associated Press reported.

The additional funding for the FCC's E-rate technology grants will translate to about $733 million for California schools over the next five years, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based national policy and advocacy group underwritten by AT&T Foundation among other sponsors.

Jason Amos, vice president of communications for the alliance, said the funding will help schools that may still have the same speed to browse the Internet as the average home.

“In a school, you might have two or 300 or more trying to access the Internet. So more times than not, it ends up crashing and teachers and students get frustrated and decide, you know, we’re not going to go with the Internet,” Amos said.

Amos said the funds could buy better routers in classrooms, for example, to improve Wi-Fi connectivity. The grants will be available next year, just in time for California’s biggest test of its technology: the online Common Core state exams scheduled in the spring.

"The increase is going to help over 5 million California students, over 10,000 California schools and over 1,000 California libraries," Amos said.

Expansion of the E-rate program will be a positive for service providers as well.  The cost of Internet service through AT&T for LAUSD is about $25,000 per month, which roughly amounts to $300,000 annually.

The E-rate was created in 1996 when only 14 percent of the nation’s schools were connected to the Internet, according to the alliance. While most classes and libraries are now connected, 63 percent of public schools nationwide do not have broadband connections to maximize digital learning, the FCC said in a  news release.

Under the E-rate program, schools and libraries can get a discount for telecommunications services paid through a "universal service fund." Providers like AT&T and Verizon must contribute to the fund, but the cost is passed through to consumers as monthly fees.

FCC members spit their votes along party lines in approving the latest funding. While the three Democrats supported the plan, the two Republicans voted against it, arguing that the businesses that often pay for employee phones would bear the burden of the increased fees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.