MOORESVILLE, N.C. - President Obama on Thursday called for wider access to high-speed Internet in schools, prodding the Federal Communications Commission to work toward an aggressive goal that he first proposed in 2008.
"In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, why shouldn't we have it in our schools?" Obama asked during a visit to Mooresville Middle School outside of Charlotte, N.C.
Obama said he would ask the FCC to "begin a process that will connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed broadband Internet within five years."
Senior administration officials have called the program ConnectEd, saying it reflects Obama's vision for a "21st century classroom," where students learn faster using computers and devices connected to high-speed Internet.
Obama pushed for broadband infrastructure to be included in his economic stimulus package in 2008. A year later, in December 2009, the administration detailed $2 billion in grants for broadband.
It was the third stop on Obama's "Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour," which has focused on jobs and investment, and aimed at revisiting ideas Obama put forth in his State of the Union speech. After a surge of interest in guns and immigration, those proposals fell by the wayside of national discussion.
The cornerstone of ConnectEd is Obama's request that the Federal Communications Commission work to make Internet access cheaper for schools. Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC provided schools and libraries with discounts on telecommunication services through its E-Rate program. Obama on Thursday called on the FCC to modernize that program to make high-speed Internet access more widely available to students.
That move, along with investments in laptops and mobile devices for students, "will better prepare our children for the jobs and challenges of the future and will provide them with a short path to the middle class, and as a consequence it will mean a stronger and more secure economy for all of us," Obama said.
The president cited a statistic that the average American school has the same bandwidth as the average American home, and that 20 percent of U.S. students have access to high-speed Internet at school, while 100 percent of South Korean students do.
Mooresville's school district has given each of its students a laptop and access to high-speed Internet at school. Obama lauded the district for high performance scores at relatively little cost.
"You don't just write papers and take tests. You're working together on videos and presentations and movies and poetry. Your high school Spanish class might Skype with students in Barcelona or Buenos Aires," Obama said, noting that of 115 school districts in the state, Mooresville ranked in the bottom 10 in money spent per student and second in student achievement.
Actress Claire Danes was in the audience, briefly greeting the president after he spoke as he shook hands with students and guests at a rope line.