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The FCC Must Act NOW on Behalf of Our Children!

Make the Operators Give an Education Price for Cellular Connectivity

Ok ... time to be perfectly clear; below we amplify[i] on our recent call on the FCC to act on behalf of K-12 school children in the U.S.

FACT: A powerful, mobile computing device costs $100[ii] [iii] – Negroponte’s $100 computer is NOW a reality. In effect, computers are essentially free.

Now that the device problem has been solved by industry, let’s turn our attention to the connectivity problem; it too needs to be solved by industry.

Oops! Maybe the facts below indicate that the industry needs a kick in the pants by the FCC in order to solve the problem:

Some inconvenient facts:

#1. The FCC has still not changed the rule that Internet connectivity paid for by e-Rate must be used on the school’s campus. So the 440 students in a St. Marys (OH) elementary school, who each have a smartphone can’t take the phone home and use the cellular connectivity! According to the antiquated FCC rules, the school’s cellular connectivity must ONLY be used on campus.

But NOTE NOTE NOTE: The FCC ran a pilot where that ruling was removed from about 10 schools in 2011 and literally NO word about the findings from that pilot have been heard in the land.

#2. St. Marys is paying $29.00 per device per month for the privilege of connecting up to 3G. The St. Marys elementary school actually only pays 40% of $29.00 because the e-Rate (YOUR TAX DOLLARS) pays the other 60%. But: see #1 above — that is a mixed blessing.)

But NOTE NOTE NOTE: $29.00 is actually a VERY GOOD rate by comparison to what the other operators are charging. (For historical reasons, companies like AT&T, Verizon are called “operators.”)

There is NO SPECIAL SCHOOL RATE; there is NO EDUCATION rate for cellular connectivity.

“Verizon and AT&T reported their quarterly earnings in the last week, and they told nearly identical stories: Both are making a ton of money just from mobile data — the fees we pay to access the Internet over their networks. Most people are paying for more data than they ever use.” April 26, 2012[iv]

On the other hand: The FCC has forced the cable companies to give a $9.95 per month rate for Internet connectivity that low SES families can apply to have. Excuse me, but what about the schools!!!!

#3. This is not a U.S.-only phenomenon.

· Colleagues in the UK report the same intransigence with respect to an education rate for cellular connectivity; the operators there also charge schools the going market rate.

· Colleagues in the wireless industry have told similar stories about the operators in India, Malaysia, etc.

· And please read the following email from a Business Development Manager at a major operator to a school principal in Singapore (the details have been redacted to protect the guilty):

“With regards to the mobile data line sponsorship for the XXX Project, we would like to exit from this project as we do not see ourselves playing an active role in terms of Business Development. Instead, YYY from our Sales department will be taking up this project and following up with you. She is copied on this email too, just in case you have any queries which you might like to check with her.”

Translation: We (a multi-billion dollar operator) can’t see how we are going to make any money from schools so we are not going to help you in your school project. If you want cellular connectivity, talk to our sales department — just like anyone else.

· “Lawsuits and other legal actions in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York have turned up evidence that AT&T and Verizon charged local school districts much higher rates than it gave to similar customers or more than what the program allowed.”[v]

These articles leave one speechless.

Something MUST be done and done now!

The momentum for mobile technologies in K-12 is building rapidly. Project Tomorrow’s data are a beacon; everyone – parents, teachers, students, principals, school boards, etc. — all want mobile technologies to be used in the K-12 classroom. But the prediction that we have publicly made — that by 2015 every child in every grade in every school in America will be using a mobile computing device, 24/7, for curricular purposes — will NOT come true if the chokehold on cellular connectivity continues to be exerted by “the operators.”

The FCC must act and it must act NOW. In the recent past, the FCC has acted on behalf of low SES families in making Internet connectivity available at an affordable — and still profitable — rate. The FCC must act now on behalf of America’s children: every child in every grade in every school in America must have an Internet-connected, mobile computing device, 24/7, for the purpose of learning!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at