In 1996, we were just beginning to understand the power of the Internet and the world of opportunity it would open for students. We knew businesses and communities relied on it — and we knew it was important to give students access to technology, no matter where they live, so they could thrive in this new economy. That’s when I decided to come up with a way every West Virginia school could get online.
I sat down and wrote a bill that created what we call the E-rate program — a funny name that basically means schools and libraries have the ability, at a discounted rate, to purchase technology and connect to the Internet.
When we began, only about 14 percent of classrooms were connected to the Internet. Now, because of E-rate, more than 92 percent of classrooms are connected. We have a generation of kids who have been exposed to the power of technology and educators who fully embrace the invaluable role it plays in their teaching. And I have seen these benefits across West Virginia.
When I visited Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston, I saw students’ faces light up as they connected online with a NASA scientist involved with the International Space Station. Put simply, this wouldn’t have been possible without E-rate. And millions of other children have had the same experiences because their classrooms are connected.
The positives reach beyond the classroom, as E-Rate is also responsible for connecting our libraries to the Internet — even in our most rural communities. People across West Virginia use Internet access in libraries for online education, job searches, and even medical research. We’re bringing the power of an online world to literally every corner of our state.
Today, we need to take E-rate to the next level. We need to think about how we are going to meet the future technology needs of our schools and libraries, and to accept that basic Internet connection isn’t going to be enough.
Moving ahead, I am fighting to make E-rate even better by expanding it to include next-generation high-speed Internet service. Every student deserves to have at their fingertips the compelling online tools offered by today’s data-driven society — in part because that’s the best chance possible to succeed after they graduate.
We know that studying science, technology, education, and mathematics will strongly prepare our young people for the global economy. Investing in 21st century technology in our classrooms allows students to take full advantage of the latest educational resources in these fields.
I championed E-rate because students in rural areas should have access to the same information as students in New York City and Los Angeles. Every student deserves the same opportunities to succeed — no matter their community or income level.
We need to prepare our youngest generation for the century they will grow up in — one driven by technology and digital information. E-rate is just the program to achieve this goal.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was elected to the United States Senate in 1984, and re-elected in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008.