Education Stimulus: Broadband Edition

President-elect Obama announced in a recent radio address that his administration would seek to direct a portion of a federal spending bill aimed at getting the economy back on track to expanding broadband access in schools. The House stimulus package contains $1 billion for technology programs and $6 billion to bring broadband access to underserved communities that may include schools. President-elect Obama said “Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m president — because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.” The National Center for Education Statistics reports in the 2007 report Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2005 that in the fall of 2005 nearly 100 percent of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet. In 2005, 97 percent of public school internet access was high-speed broadband with a ratio of 3.8 students per 1 computer with internet access. Billions have already been spent through the federal “E-Rate” program to give students internet access. Like most large-scale government giveaways, the federal E-rate program, which collects $2.5 billion a year in telephone taxes to hook up schools and libraries to the Internet, has produced a huge amount of waste. Puerto Rico has spent $101 million in federal grants to wire 1,500 public schools for Internet access. Yet the island-wide school district warehoused most of the equipment for more than three years, and only nine schools were actually connected to the Internet. The Chicago public schools have more than $5 million in E-rate computer equipment sitting in a warehouse. In San Francisco school officials discovered that a $68 million project should have cost less than $18 million. A huge new federal investment in broadband technology will likely do little to expand broadband access while opening up the potential for even more waste and incompetence. More money for internet access in schools is a duplicative funding stream to solve a non-problem.