A Little #edtech History: Connecting Schools

Once the World Wide Web became available in the mid-1990’s, the Internet changed from being a resource for academic and government researchers to being a tool for commerce and the people. Many educators recognized the World Wide Web as an opportunity for students to access previously unavailable resources. Because few schools had the network infrastructure necessary to connect classrooms to the Internet in the mid-1990’s, and because few schools had the necessary budget to install that infrastructure, volunteers in a large number of communities organized NetDays, events during which community members installed network cables in school buildings.

Through active participation in such grassroots efforts, citizens demonstrated an intense interest in ensuring the Internet was available in schools. Such interest was identified as one factor that led the officials in the administration of President Clinton to propose several programs to improve technology capacity in K-12 schools in the United States. The passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 established a program through which schools and libraries were reimbursed for a portion of the costs of telecommunications service, with deeper discounts going to communities with larger economically disadvantaged populations.

The program came to be known as “e-Rate” and currently it is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, and the money it provides continues to support access to voice and data networks in K-12 schools. At about the same time the e-Rate program started, the federal government in the United States initiated a program called Technology Literacy Challenge (TLC) that made government funds available to purchase computers for schools. While TLC has been discontinued, and federal support for computers in schools is variable, local efforts to increase students’ access to computers continue to be popular. In many communities, those efforts to provide each student with a computer are known as one-to-one initiatives.