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Online Petition Urges More E-rate Funding
In a push to get the Federal Communications Commission to release more funding for its popular E-rate program, Funds For Learning, a compliance service firm for E-rate applicants, is circulating an open letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and an online petition.
Currently, the E-rate program, also known as the Schools and Libraries Program of the Federal Communications Commission's Universal Service Fund, is capped at $2.29 billion per year, while demand has surged to more than twice that amount. The program helps schools and libraries throughout the country obtain various telecommunications services and products, like high-speed internet access.
In the letter, Funds for Learning CEO John Harrington explains that schools and libraries, especially ones in poorer communities, rely on the E-rate program as “the financial backbone that enables them to keep their sophisticated and expensive telecommunications networks up and running.” To supplement the existing budget, Harrington argues for shifting funds from the FCC's ambitious Connect America Fund, which aims to extend broadband access across the United States by the end of the decade.
“It makes sense to take funds from the Connect America Fund and to allocate them to the E-rate program, enough to make the latter a viable solution to the student and community access part of our country’s broadband problem,” said Harrington. “Allocating funds from the Connect America Fund will not require any new taxes, making it the perfect solution to a serious problem at a very difficult time.”
According to Funds for Learning, demand for E-rate funds has increased by 108 percent since the program began, from $2.36 billion in 1998 to $4.65 billion from more than 44,000 applicants in 2011. However, from 1998 to 2009, the available E-rate funds were capped at $2.25 billion. The cap was indexed by inflation starting in 2010, resulting in $2.27 and $2.29 billion in available funds for 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“Over $4.6 billion in E-rate requests have been denied for no other reason than the program ran out of funds for the given funding year,” said Cathy Cruzan, president of Funds For Learning in a statement. “There are many schools that are in desperate need of technological upgrades, but are short-changed simply because of a lack of funding. The FCC has the resources needed to close this divide and we are encouraging them to do so.”
Additional background information about the program is available online. Funds for Learning will deliver its petition to the FCC in early 2012.
Stephen Noonoo is a reporter, contributing editor and consultant specializing in education technology. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.