Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Haves ... and Have Mores

Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Haves ... and Have Mores

Article excerpt

When does a luxury become a necessity?

It landed like a bucket of ice-cold water on a hopeful suitor. The scene was the Federal Communications Commission, dispenser of more than $6 billion in Erate dollars to schools since 1998. The water-tosser was Michael Powell, newly designated FCC chairman, former commissioner, and son of Colin. The trigger was the Digital Divide--specifically, a reporter's question about whether such a divide actually exists in America.

"I think there is a Mercedes divide," Powell answered. "I would like to have one, but I can't afford one."

With bracing brusqueness, Chairman Powell highlighted the ongoing dilemma of talking about equity in a fast-changing field.

TODAY'S LUXURIES, TOMORROW'S NECESSITIES I suspect that a number of politicians said the same thing about electricity, and later about the telephone. What started out as rich people's playthings soon became essential to the American way of life. The Rural Electrification Program and Universal Service soon followed--the latter paving the way for the E-rate before the century was through. The line between a luxury and a necessity can shift with lightning speed when it comes to technology.

It's hard to believe that just half a dozen years ago, when we all first started talking about the Digital Divide and the need to assure access for all to the Internet, dial-up was state of the art for many schools and small businesses and still something of an "extra" at home. (How many people did you know in 1995 with an extra phone line just for the modem?)

FATTER PIPES AIR PIPES Thanks to NetDay, the E-rate, and others, school districts are now just as likely to have T-1 or better connectivity--yesterday's Mercedes, today's Honda. (Too many schools still segregate access to the lab or media center, however, which from a student's point of view is like having access to a car only every other day.)

Some schools, and not just the richest ones, are already taking the plunge into fiber optic infrastructure that opens up vast new vistas of speed and capacity. Their convergent dreams of data, voice and video all running fast through the same pipe are suddenly within reach.

Others are looking at wireless networking, with the goal of allowing students and teachers access to school computing resources and the Internet from anywhere on campus--ideally through laptops, portables and other devices. …

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