(CNN) -- Saying Web access is essential for students to compete in a wired world, President Obama on Thursday will announce an initiative to bring high-speed Internet to almost all of the nation's schools by 2018.
At a speech in a high-tech middle school in Mooresville, North Carolina, Obama was scheduled to order federal agencies to earmark funds for providing broadband and wireless access to 99% of U.S. public schools in the next five years, according to senior administration officials. The president is tasking the Federal Communication Commission with spearheading the project, and is also asking the FCC to fund high-speed connections at libraries.
"We are living in a digital age, and to help our students get ahead, we must make sure they have access to cutting-edge technology," said Obama in a statement released by the White House.
"So today, I'm issuing a new challenge for America -- one that families, businesses, school districts and the federal government can rally around together -- to connect virtually every student in America's classrooms to high-speed broadband internet within five years, and equip them with the tools to make the most of it."
At least one FCC member has alreasdy signaled she's on board with the effort.
"President Obama's ConnectED initiative recognizes that access to adequate broadband capacity to our schools and libraries is not a luxury -- it's a necessity for America's next generation of students to be able to compete ...," FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was nominated by Obama, said in a written statement. "We need to protect what we have done, build on it, and put it on a course to provide higher speeds and greater opportunities in the days ahead. This initiative is an exciting effort that has my wholehearted and enthusiastic support."
The initiative, called ConnectED, also will ask private-sector industries for help in getting the most modern technology, educational software and apps into students' hands, and in providing tech training for teachers.
The effort does not require approval by Congress.
According to an administration fact sheet, the average American school has slower Internet connections than most homes, and fewer than 20% of educators say their school's Web access meets their teaching needs.
The White House says the initiative will particularly benefit rural schools, and rural communities in general, where high-speed Web access still lags behind urban and suburban areas.