Mr. Lucas Goes to Washington: Edutopia's Founder Advocates Telecom Access For All

The chairman of The George Lucas Educational Foundation urges Congress to expand Internet discounts for schools.

The chairman of The George Lucas Educational Foundation urges Congress to expand Internet discounts for schools.
photo
Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Congressman Ed Markey

Access to high-speed Internet and other telecommunication tools is a "digital civil right" that the United States should guarantee to every student, George Lucas told members of Congress June 24.

Lucas, a filmmaker and chairman of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that Congress should expand and modernize its twelve-year-old program of telecom discounts to schools and libraries. To achieve his vision of Edutopia, in which students direct their own learning while teachers nurture their curiosity, he said, the ultimate goal should be to make these connections for every school and library not just more affordable, but free.

"Telecommunications provides the new learning platform of this century and is replacing the textbook as the medium through which a modern education is provided," Lucas said. "The world's knowledge is now available online, far beyond what books and materials can provide in schools and libraries themselves."

The E-rate, as the federal discount is called, ranges from 20 to 90 percent, depending on the school's need. Created through the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, it covers telecom services, including phone and Internet, and internal school connections. The government pays for the discounts, up to $2.25 billion a year, with mandatory contributions from telecom companies and customers.

Congressman Edward Markey, who chairs the subcommittee, called today's hearing on the E-rate to help his group weigh potential changes to the law next year. Markey credited Lucas -- who testified before the same group about telecom access in 1994 -- as his inspiration for writing the E-rate program into the law. In one of many Star Wars metaphors subcommittee members made during the hearing, U.S. representative Lee Terry likened the defenders of the Universal Service Fund to "the Luke Skywalkers riding in to save the fund from those who want to destroy it, the Darth Vaders."

Lucas urged the lawmakers to extend the 1996 definition of "universal service" to include high-speed broadband Internet service, and to anticipate the advent of connective technologies to come. In supplemental written testimony, he pointed to examples of powerful learning -- students watching heart-bypass surgery by videoconference, or using online simulations to experience ancient civilizations -- made possible only by the kind of high-speed connections lawmakers in the 1990s couldn't foresee.

Although Internet access in public schools has ballooned in the past decade, Lucas noted that not all these connections are broadband. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in Paris, he added, the United States trails fourteen other nations in broadband access.

"Americans were pioneers in creating the truly wondrous technology that we are talking about today," Lucas concluded in the written portion of his testimony. "Innovation is in our DNA. Now, we need to make sure it is also in our classrooms and that every American child grows up knowing how to use the Internet and benefit from its rich and powerful resources."

Download a PDF of George Lucas's complete written testimony.

This article originally published on 6/24/2008

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Comments (6)

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Robert Patrik Winston (not verified)

Advocating telecommunications access for all

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Dear Mr. Lucas,

I thank you so much for speaking on behalf of all the Students and Teachers of the United States of America.

Educational Reform is of the utmost importance in the United States, and I am sure The Department of Education is truly grateful for your leadership in guiding and paving the new path of Visionary Principals that will allow every American Citizen to become stellar students and teachers, and repect what "Synergy" means between the pupil and instructor!

With respect and gratitude,

Robert Patrik Winston
Chairman, WINSTON MEDIA LTD., LLC
www.winstonmedia.net

Linda (not verified)

Mr. Lucas's testimony to Congress

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Thank you so much, Mr. Lucas, for making and taking the time to testify in the House Subcom. on Telecom. & the Intrnt. You did not deserve the snotty comments some irritating members of Congress made.

I support you in every possible way, especially with your efforts at making education fun. Keep up your wonderful work.

I will take the time to keep these issues current with Congress. Many of them don't want to take the tiime for anything new, with the elections coming, so I hope everyone who agrees will keep reminding their own Representatives that we can all make education a much more positive experience than it is now.

I will be 60 October 27, and was fortunate enough to have all the benefits of Gov. Pat Brown's Master Plan for Higher Education here in the SF Bay Area. Your ideas are wonderful.

Our money is nearly worthless anyway, with all this deficit spending and the war. Spending more money to support better education is worthwhile at any point.

Everyone's local Representatives' staffs can tell anyone who is on what committees in the House, as can reference librarians.

Keep up your great work. Thank you for being you.

Samantha Phillips (not verified)

Classrooms need to get SMART

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I applaud Mr. Lucas and his efforts to wake up America's schools to the technological revolution.

I would sincerely appreciate government backed funding to ensure that all classrooms have SMART boards. This was a plan supported by the British government light years ago! They also followed through on their promise.

Press onward Mr. Lucas, we have a long way to go and so much to learn from global educators.

Dana Posner (not verified)

Mr. Lucas participates in '08 Voting Campaign for the Youth

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It's wonderful to see Mr. Lucas backing up the idea of telecommunications in schools and libraries. I think it's great that he is so in-tune with what our current technology has to offer the world in order to further education in every arena.

Coincidently, Mr. Lucas participated in our "Vote For It '08" campaign partnering with CPX Interactive and Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and developing a powerful and viral video to urge the youth of America to vote - especially during this historical election!

For more information on the cause and to see Mr. Lucas in the hip-hop video, you can visit http://www.squidoo.com/vfi08
or
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpAOYskH1s8.

Thanks to Mr. Lucas and to all of his efforts in helping to make this cause a success!

Angela E. Arndt (not verified)

Making a real difference

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I am again very impressed with the work Mr. Lucas and Edutopia achieves to further innovations in education in a real and practical manner. It is inspirational for educators to see this depth of commitment and the vision to make changes that will actually make a difference.

Thanks again.

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