Telecommunications | News

Feds Loosen Broadband Rules for Schools

The Federal Communications Commission is looking to make it easier for schools to adopt broadband technologies to allow them to boost their Internet connectivity. The agency Thursday revealed new rules for the E-rate program that are designed to loosen up restrictions on broadband adoption and streamline the application process.

E-rate is the FCC program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co. that supports schools and libraries with discounts on telecommunications equipment. It's a $2.25 billion program that's meant to help institutions outfit and support their facilities with telephone and Internet equipment and services.

Changes to the new rules will allow program participants to apply E-rate funds to a wider range of Internet connectivity options, including "unused fiber optic lines already in place across the country and through existing state, regional and local networks," according to information released by the FCC today. "With these fiber networks, schools and libraries can provide students and communities with cutting-edge connectivity, while at the same time saving millions of dollars by bypassing more expensive options."

The new order will bring other changes as well. Schools will be able to serve as "anchor institutions" for their communities, offering Internet access to surrounding areas when students are not in school. The order also includes a provision for a wireless pilot program to support mobile learning technologies at schools and away from schools.

"Today's Order ... embraces the real potential of mobile broadband for schools and students, and the promise of digital textbooks," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in a written statement released to the press today. "Through a new pilot program, it opens the door for students who now carry 50 pounds of outdated textbooks in their backpacks to instead use digital textbooks or laptops with up-to-date materials and cutting-edge interactive learning tools."

He also went so far as to credit student mobile phone use with increases in academic achievement: "Early experimentation demonstrates the potential of on-the-go learning. In Onslow County, North Carolina, in an experimental program supported by Qualcomm, high school students were given smartphones with 24/7 Internet access. The students who were taught math on these learning devices were more likely to achieve proficiency in Algebra than classmates who had the same teacher but weren't given phones."

Finally, the changes to the rules are also designed to make E-rate's processes more efficient by, among other things, streamlining E-rate application processes.

Further information about E-rate can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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