Ed Tech Leaders Applaud FCC Decision to Increase Funding for Broadband by $1.5 Billion a Year

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to increase the E-rate fund by $1.5 billion annually. According to a release from the FCC, the decision will allow the United States to expand high-speed WiFi access to 43.5 million additional students, more than 101,000 additional schools and nearly 16,000 additional libraries.

To pay for the increase in funding, the FCC expects that a consumer or business will see their telephone bills increase by about 16 cents a month or $1.90 a year. Before today’s vote, E-rate funding had been capped 16 years ago at $2.25 billion a year.

The new funding comes in response to the fact that a large majority of public schools don’t have broadband. As Tom Murray, state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education, “With two-thirds of our nation's schools not having the needed connectivity, getting on WiFi in many of our schools is like sucking peanut butter out of a straw. We must close the connectivity gap to be able to close the achievement gap.”

The FCC's order adds funding and also maximizes the options schools and libraries have for buying affordable high-speed broadband connectivity by:

  • allowing applicants to pay their share of one-time, up-front construction costs over multiple years;
  • allowing schools and libraries to build high-speed broadband facilities themselves when that is the most cost-effective option; and
  • providing an incentive for state support of last-mile broadband facilities through a match from E-rate of up to 10 percent of the cost of construction, with special consideration for tribal schools.

Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association, said that the order “levels the playing field by ensuring students in low-income and rural communities gain full access to today’s digital learning environment.”

Among other education leaders, reaction to the FCC’s decision was enthusiastic. In a supportive statement, AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech said, ”Collectively, it is the first major comprehensive modernization of the E-Rate program and a bold step toward supporting our nation’s schools and libraries as they navigate current and future connectivity needs and uses.”

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, called the decision “the best holiday gift possible for the nation’s students and teachers,” adding that, “With increased funding for high-speed Internet connections, U.S. teachers and students will spend more classroom time teaching and learning rather than waiting for webpages and videos to load.”

John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning, called the vote “a bold step forward in support of our nation’s students and library patrons. Internet access is an essential element of modern society.”

Industry leaders recognized, though, that the new funding is the first of many steps in providing students with the Internet connectivity they need. ISTE CEO Brian Lewis approved of the fact that, “This additional investment to deliver high-speed connectivity to schools provides the basic infrastructure educators need to successfully deliver digital-age learning.” But, he added, connecting schools is only a start. “The future of learning means students need to be connected 24/7; the next step is to improve access for all students at home so learning isn’t interrupted. ISTE will to continue to work with the commission to connect students where they live and where they learn beyond the bell.”

CoSN CEO Keith Krueger, in hailing the decision, made it clear that modernizing America’s schools will take more than federal funding. “We encourage local and state leaders to make similar investments to equip all students with the broadband connectivity they need to learn and thrive in today’s increasingly connected world,” he said.

For state-by-state information on how many students, schools and libraries will benefit in each state from today’s FCC vote, click here.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.