Before final speech, Arne Duncan promotes work on high-speed broadband

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Before outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan prepares to give his farewell speech on Wednesday, he had some parting words about the importance of high-speed broadband.

Duncan and Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler co-wrote an article on Medium last week that touted the work both agencies did to speed up Internet in schools and homes across the country.

“Early indications show that, in the ongoing work to connect our students to 21st century digital learning opportunities, efforts from the federal government and our partners are meeting and even exceeding expectations,” the two officials wrote.

They referred to a report produced by nonprofit EducationSuperHighway that revealed 20 million students now have access to high-speed connectivity at school, which made the list of top priorities of 2015 for Education Department officials.

Duncan and Wheeler also noted that their respective agencies took on the issue, albeit in different ways.

President Barack Obama announced his ConnectED initiative to get 99 percent of students access to high-speed broadband over five years, while the FCC overhauled its E-rate program to allow schools and libraries to apply for $3.9 billion in extra funding this year, including more than $1.6 billion for internal Wi-Fi networks.

“This marks the first time since 2010, and only the third time in the history of the program, that all eligible Wi-Fi applications will be funded,” they wrote. “These requests also reflect long pent-up demand at all schools and libraries, but particularly at rural schools.”

The two officials added that there is still more work to be done, especially to close the homework gap in rural areas where there is insufficient Internet connection.

“Rural and small town schools are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to lack a fiber connection than their urban and suburban counterparts,” Duncan and Wheeler wrote. “Affordability is an issue, particularly in rural areas, where the median costs for high-speed connections are more than double the costs in urban and suburban schools. Millions more students and their teachers must be connected before we reach our goals.”

Duncan is scheduled to give his departing remarks at Saint Sabina Church in Chicago, where he will call for “continued work to save the lives of America’s children by protecting them from violence, combatting disconnectedness from society, and creating hope and opportunity for every student,” according to a release.

He will be replaced by his deputy, John King, the former New York state education commissioner.

Duncan’s speech can be watched live on the agency’s Facebook page using the Facebook Live feature, and viewers can participate by submitting questions following the speech.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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