E-Rate Requests for High-Speed Internet Have Doubled Since Last Year
The number of E-rate requests for high-speed internet has doubled since last year, according to the 2016 E-Rate Trends Report, prepared by Oklahoma-based consulting group Funds for Learning.
In addition, 90 percent of applicants to the federal program expect their bandwidth needs to increase over the next three years. Only 10 percent predicted no change, while 65 percent said they expect to see their internet bandwidth increase by 50 percent or more over the next three years.
The report said more rural than urban districts applied for funding in 2016: 54 percent vs. 46 percent. Seventy-two percent of school districts said they believe WiFi is critical to fulfilling their missions, and 43 percent have networks that are one to three years old.
However, last year saw a 12 percent decline in total applicants, when compared to FY 2012 figures, and a 4 percent decline in the number of sites listed on applications. At the same time, the percentage of applicants relying on consultants increased to 60 percent, compared to 39 percent in FY 2011.
The Federal Communications Commission sets aside $3.9 billion annually for E-rate funding, and with $200 million rolling over from 2016, school districts will have access to more than $4 billion in FY 2017 for connectivity upgrades.
The federal E-rate program, authorized as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has been shifting away recently toward broadband connectivity and WiFi equipment and away from “legacy” services such as voice, which will no long be funded in 2019.
In Funds for Learning’s report, 45 percent said they would make changes when it came to voice services, when looking at the overall eligible services list.
Many districts are not prepared if their main internet connection fails. Seventy-nine percent responded “no” to the question, “Do you have a back-up or a secondary internet connection in the event that your primary internet connection fails?” Only 21 percent said “yes.”
A significant majority expressed positive views of the E-rate program: 94 percent said their organizations will continue to apply for funding in the future, while 85 percent said E-rate is vital to their organization’s internet connectivity goals. Seventy-seven percent said they connect more students/patrons to the internet because of E-rate, and 76 percent said they have faster internet because of the E-rate program.
At the same time, 65 percent said FY 2016 applications took longer than in previous years.
The federal E-rate program is sheltered from annual budgetary fights in Congress because it is paid for by consumers as part of their monthly telephone bills. But it can still get caught up in partisan bickering.
The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, opposed the two E-rate modernization orders in 2014, one of which created a new focus on WiFi and the other which significantly expanded the budget of the program.
However, Pai has expressed a commitment to closing the digital divide. His opposition to the 2014 actions was because they ignored inefficiencies in the program and a tendency to favor wealthy and urban districts over poor and rural ones, according to Education Dive.
The complete 2016 E-Rate Trends Report is available for free download on the Funds For Learning website.
Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].