E-Rate | September 2013 Digital Edition

E-Rate Begins at Home

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's September 2013 digital edition.

If we know anything at all about the impact of technology on learning, we know that students must be able to use it when they need it, as long as they need it. Studies from Project RED and other research initiatives have shown that ubiquitous access is a necessary (although certainly not sufficient) condition for technology to have a positive impact on student learning outcomes and behaviors. Hence, the move by so many districts toward a 1-to-1 computing ratio. 

But here’s the not-so-secret secret about 1-to-1 access: anytime and anywhere doesn’t just mean during the school day. For technology to have its truest impact, students need to be able to do research, use productivity tools, get instruction, engage with text, and practice skills (remedial or otherwise) at home too. And as more and more of these educational resources become web- or cloud-based, the need for sufficient bandwidth at home becomes the final, and critical, frontier in learning connectivity. 

Which is why the reformation of the E-rate is so urgently needed. The original E-rate mandate was created over 15 years ago—when there was no such thing as a smartphone and AOL defined online access. So if for no other reason, the program needs a makeover. 

But the E-rate needs to rethink what “equitable access” means. As computing devices get more and more affordable, and as schools commit to making sure every child has access to a learning device, equitability becomes less about the gadget and more about connectivity. And equitable connectivity becomes less about school and more about home. 

One key section in the proposed E-rate overhaul asks if the FCC “should permit schools to provide wireless hotspots to surrounding communities using E-rate supported services.” The answer to that should be a resounding “Yes!” (Or, if you are Homer Simpson, “D'oh!”) But wireless “hotspots” are not enough. Unless those community centers are a safe walking distance from every students’ home, opened early and closed late, and provide adult supervision, we are still looking at serious inequitable access to digital learning resources. 

I’d like to see the E-rate extend discounts to families in schools’ catchment areas, perhaps using qualifiers like those who are free or reduced lunch. (I’d also like to see the E-rate program ensure schools get those discounts. As CoSN director Keith Krueger notes, there has been little transparency on the requirement to give schools the lowest rate.) If families can’t afford their cable or teleco rates, then there is no home access. And learning begins at home, now more than ever.

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].