FCC commissioner highlights E-rate success in North Carolina


Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), spent the morning at a middle school in North Carolina where she got a chance to “see E-rate in action.”

Rosenworcel, an outspoken advocate for broadband access in schools, traveled to Holly Springs, a town outside Raleigh, on Wednesday to meet students and teachers who stand to gain from the policies she defends back in Washington.

“There’s nothing better than seeing this first-hand,” she said in an interview with EdScoop. “It’s sitting down with people outside of Washington … and seeing how this challenge [of broadband access] is real and being addressed at a local level.”

The commissioner, who officially rejoined the FCC for a second term last month, said her first stop of the day was at Holly Grove Middle School, which receives critical funding through E-rate. The federal program makes it more affordable for schools and libraries to obtain internet access, and during the Obama administration, it was modernized and its funding was boosted to $3.9 billion annually. However, its fate is unclear with the FCC now controlled by a Republican majority and a new chairman, Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump.

Because of E-rate, Rosenworcel said, the students and teachers at Holly Grove are able to do “a lot of really innovative things with connected classrooms.” She visited a classroom of 8th graders who were coding and using iPads to aid in their math lesson for the day.

“These students were doing things that are infinitely more innovative and collaborative than the things I was doing in 8th grade,” Rosenworcel said. “It was fun and interesting and the classroom was humming with energy.

“It was also a wonderful demonstration of what digital-age classrooms can look like and the kinds of things teachers can do to get students engaged in a hands-on way.”

During the visit, Rosenworcel also spoke with teachers and school administrators about the opportunities they’ve unlocked through E-rate.

“They reiterated again and again and again how important E-rate support is to keep schools like theirs connected, to make sure students can learn from their teachers in ways that really reflect the digital age,” she said.

After her visit in Holly Springs, Rosenworcel and her team headed to North Carolina State University’s campus in Raleigh, where she spoke about the “homework gap” at the Friday Institute for Education Innovation.

The homework gap — a term coined by Rosenworcel — affects students who are expected to use the internet to complete homework assignments after school but do not have access to the internet in their homes.

During the meeting, the Friday Institute unveiled “new data on the scope and breadth of the homework gap in [North Carolina] and engage[d] stakeholders and subject matter experts in designing solutions to close the gap,” according to its website.

The institute conducted a statistical study of the homework gap to understand the “extent to which students in North Carolina rely on the internet for nightly homework,” she said, calling their efforts to quantify the digital divide “terrific.”

“I’d like to see if more state can tackle this on a statewide level like North Carolina,” she said, emphasizing that “the homework gap is the cruelest part of the digital divide.”