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Education Advocates Hail FCC's Plans To Modernize E-Rate

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced plans to review and modernize the E-rate program with the goal of increasing broadband capacity, maximizing cost-effective purchasing, and streamlining program administration.

The E-rate program helps schools and libraries pay for Internet access. Since it was established in 1997, it has helped increase the number of classrooms connected to the Internet from 14 percent to 97 percent. However, many of the country's schools still lack high-speed broadband access to the Internet, which is becoming increasingly important in the digital age. In June, when President Obama announced his ConnectED initiative, which aims to connect 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet within five years, there were widespread calls from education-related organizations to modernize the E-rate program to support the initiative. The FCC has now answered that call with the first comprehensive update to the program since it was first introduced 16 years ago.

The FCC has proposed three goals for the modernization of the E-rate program:

  • Increased connectivity to high-capacity broadband;
  • Efficient purchasing through bulk buying, consortia, and competitive bidding improvements; and
  • Cutting red tape to speed and streamline application reviews.

Numerous education-related organizations, including the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Council Americas, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the United States Department of Education have applauded the announcement.

“The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) congratulates the FCC on the move to open a notice of proposed rulemaking on the E-rate program," said Douglas Levin, executive director of SETDA, in a prepared statement.

In May 2012, SETDA recommended targets of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and educators by the 2014-2015 school year, rising to 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and educators by the 2017-2018 school year.

"If we are serious as a nation about employing digital learning tools to dramatically accelerate the preparation of all students for college and careers, a concerted national effort – including new funding and resources — will be required to meet the challenges the President himself has set forth in the ConnectED initiative," continued Levin. "Today’s action by the FCC is an important step in the right direction, and SETDA looks forward to working with the Commission and others to ensure that the nation’s educational broadband needs are addressed swiftly and comprehensively.”

“The E-rate program has been a critical means for the nation’s schools and students to access the digital learning opportunities necessary for their success," said Ken Wasch, president of SIIA, in a prepared statement. "SIIA applauds Acting Commissioner Clyburn and the Commission for their vote today to modernize and enhance the E-rate program to better meet today’s needs and to better support our nation’s educational and economic competitiveness. SIIA looks forward to reviewing and responding as appropriate to the proposed rules to improve program efficiency and impact.”

"This quick action from the FCC is the first step in a plan to provide 99 percent of America’s students with high-speed internet access through next-generation broadband in schools and libraries within five years," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, in a prepared statement.

“By expanding high-speed internet in the nation’s schools and libraries, the federal government can ensure that teachers and students have access to tools that make learning more personalized and more engaging, making it possible for all students to reach their learning destinations," added Wise.

"Today’s vote is a welcome step forward as our nation makes the advancements necessary to ensure our children have access to the tools needed to grow and succeed in the 21st Century," said Heather Burnett Gold, president of FTTH, in a prepared statement. "Providing ultra-high speed broadband to our schools and libraries is a critical investment in our nation’s future and one that we, as a global leader, have not prioritized as we should. The FTTH Council applauds the FCC and the Obama Administration’s commitment to upgrading our nation’s broadband infrastructure and look forward to seeing what opportunities arise when our sons and daughters have access to the networks of the future."

“Only a little over one month since President Obama announced his bold agenda, we are encouraged by the FCC’s steps to make ‘ConnectED’ a reality in classrooms nationwide," said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, in a prepared statement. "The sooner we raise E-rate’s annual cap and equip schools with increased bandwidth, the sooner students will reap the benefits of true 21st century teaching and learning environments. This initiative moves our schools in that direction. We applaud the FCC and the Administration for making education technology a national priority, and we welcome this promising start for ConnectED.”

"I want to thank the FCC Commissioners for accepting the President's challenge to bring America's classrooms into the modern age with high-speed Internet," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a prepared statement. "Their vote today marks a first step in a five-year effort that will have enormous benefits for students, teachers and families, and for our national competitiveness."

Further information about the FCC's plans to review and modernize the E-rate program can be found on the FCC's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].