Policy & Funding

FCC Seeks to Modernize E-Rate Program

The FCC has put out a notice of proposed rulemaking to ask for comments on how to reform the E-rate program.

For over 20 years, the Federal Communications Commission has supported broadband connectivity efforts for schools and libraries through the E-Rate program. Now, the FCC is considering making changes to how the program provides support to those institutions.

E-Rate has two categories of funding that support schools and libraries. Category one provides connectivity to schools and libraries, and category two provides connectivity for services within schools and libraries.

In 2014, the FCC adopted a new budget approach for category two services with five-year, pre-discount budgets for equipment and services needed to bring high-speed broadband into classrooms and libraries. The FCC decided that this test approach would last until the funding year 2019, in order to determine if the budget approach is effective in ensuring greater access to E-Rate discounts for internal connections.

The notice of proposed rulemaking issued on July 9 is recommending that the category two budget approach become permanent, and the FCC is asking for comment on potential modifications to simplify budgets and decrease the administrative burden of applying for category two services. The goal is to speed WiFi deployment in schools and libraries across the country.

In a statement, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed her support for the new rulemaking and credited the category two approach adopted in 2014 for providing "tens of millions" of students with the broadband internet access that they need in their classrooms. Commissioner Geoffrey Starks also recognized that the 2014 approach gave many more schools and libraries support for WiFi network projects than was possible under the prior system.

"Many more schools and libraries have requested and received WiFi funding, and the overall funding for internal connections has dramatically increased. These are all good signs that the experiment worked. I look forward to reviewing the record that we receive in response to this NPRM and taking additional steps toward making these improvements to the E-Rate program permanent," said Sarks in a statement.

A recent report from compliance firm Funds for Learning found that the demand for E-Rate is continuing to grow, with 88 percent of applicants expecting bandwidth needs of schools and libraries to increase over the next three years. The report is based on responses from 1,763 applicants for the E-rate program.

"Results from our 2019 E-Rate applicant survey confirmed the urgent need for continued category two support, and that schools and libraries rely on the E-Rate program for broadband access — this proposal couldn't have come at a better time. It's a positive sign that the FCC is actively requesting feedback from stakeholders to improve the program, and reduce the administrative burden of applying for category two services," said Funds For Learning CEO John Harrington.

The full text of the NPRM can be found here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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