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FCC Seeks Comments on E-rate Changes

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For schools that rely on E-rate funding for telecommunications and Internet access, changes are afoot that could impact planning as soon as funding year 2009. The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments on potential changes to the E-rate Eligible Services List that in some cases would narrow the list of eligible technologies and in some cases expand it. The notice was filed in the Federal Register Aug. 18, so comments are due in less than a month.

Among the topics under consideration are interconnected VoIP services, filtering software, basic telephone service, dark fiber, text messaging, firewall, antivirus/anti-spam software, scheduling services, and telephone broadcast messaging.

With VoIP, the FCC is looking to determine whether interconnected VoIP service requests should be processed as a Priority 1 service and, if so, whether such requests should need certification to meet CIPA requirements.

The FCC is also trying to determine whether standalone Internet filtering products should be funded by E-rate. This would be a change from a 2001 decision that CIPA prohibited the use of E-rate funding for filtering software.

In the category of basic telephone service, comments are being sought as to whether the FCC should expand the definition to include several additional services, such as PBX and key systems, T1 lines, and "interconnected VoIP and Primary Rate Interface (PRI) trunk lines connecting a PBX to the Public Switched Telephone Network." The effect of this would be to classify certain Priority 2 services as Priority 1 service.

Dark fiber is also under consideration at this point. In the past, the FCC has determined that dark fiber (i.e., unused fiber optic cable) is not eligible for funding under E-rate. Dark fiber is often installed in fiber optic deployments to provide capacity for future expansion, a practice that can cut costs significantly later on when additional capacity is required. Comments are also being sought on whether, should the FCC decide to fund dark fiber, any limitations should be adopted.

Other topics under consideration include:

  • Whether SMS text messaging should be included as an eligible service;
  • Whether firewall services should be included as eligible;
  • Whether E-rate should be extended to include anti-virus and anti-spam software;
  • Whether the FCC should reverse its 2006 decision that made videoconferencing scheduling system ineligible;
  • Whether telephone-based mass notification systems should be added tot he eligibility list; and
  • Whether to make wireless Internet access eligible for funding when such access is used for educational purposes on or off campus.

Further information about the possible changes, including specific areas of comment the FCC is looking for, can be found in the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which is available in PDF form here. Comments are due Sept. 18, and reply comments are due Oct. 3.

Comments can be filed electronically here.

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About the author:David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Executive Producer David Nagel heads up the editorial department for 1105 Media's education publications — which include two daily sites, a variety of newsletters and two monthly digital magazines covering technology in both K-12 and higher education.

A 21-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192 or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education). A selection of David Nagel's articles can be found on this site.


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