The Federal Communications Commission voted to expand a school program that is likely to help increase Americans' access to high-speed Internet, a major goal of the upcoming National Broadband Plan.

The program, called E-rate, funds schools' connectivity to the Internet under the $8 billion Universal Service Fund, a U.S. subsidy program for low-income families to gain access to phone service as well as for education and health services.

The five FCC members voted on Thursday to adopt an order that allows local communities to use their schools' Internet access during non-school hours.

The order helps to provide greater access to broadband to Americans at no cost to the fund, FCC officials said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he wants to reduce the cost of USF and reorient it to support broadband access.

FCC officials said that the program will now help adults taking evening digital literacy courses, unemployed Americans looking for jobs posted online and people who need to access online government services.

Especially in these times of economic crisis, having broad community access to broadband is essential, he said. We know that broadband availability and adoption are lagging, especially in rural, minority, low-income and tribal communities.

At the open meeting, FCC officials working on the National Broadband Plan due by March 17 discussed some priorities including making the U.S. government's use of broadband more efficient with the aim of creating jobs, improving remote health monitoring and reducing energy costs at U.S. households.

Cisco Systems Inc Chief Executive John Chambers urged the FCC to implement the broadband blueprint.

A next generation Internet supported by accessible, affordable broadband can transform education, health care, energy, government as well as enable job creation and economic growth, he said.

It is critical that our entire government work toward implementing a comprehensive National Broadband Plan to ensure U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century, he said.

Earlier this week Genachowski said that as part of the broadband blueprint he wants Internet service providers to offer home Internet data transmission speeds of 100 megabits per second to 100 million homes by a decade from now.

(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Bernard Orr)