Policy & Funding

Group Calls on FCC to Lift 'Significant Funding Limitations' in E-rate Program

School systems rely on the E-rate program to get funding for school internet access and network infrastructure projects, but a new Consortium for School Networking report finds that the requirements and limitations of the program puts "significant funding limitations" on how districts can address their cybersecurity needs.

The report was submitted to the  Federal Communications Commission, which sets rules for E-rate, on Sept. 3, along with joint written comments from CoSN, AASA, The Superintendents School Association, and the Association of School Business Officials International that suggest changes to make the E-rate program more effective in addressing the top priorities of school district IT officials.

According to CoSN's survey of 65 school system members detailed in the report, school systems are able to consistently adopt basic cybersecurity protections, but districts have limited resources adopt more sophisticated solutions such as intrusion detection and prevention, advanced threat protection and multi-factor authentication. Due to E-rate funding stipulations, some school districts may be forced to opt out from E-rate funding because they cannot afford to address the cybersecurity concerns that arise from building out internet and network infrastructure.

"It's clear that the cybersecurity challenge is real and prevalent in school systems nationwide. More must be done to address this 21st century priority. The FCC and U.S. policymakers should take stronger steps to help schools better protect their networks and student data. This includes expanding E-Rate eligible services to include cybersecurity protections,"said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger.

CoSN's proposed enhancements to the E-rate program include:

  • Expanding the range of firewall services that can be reimbursed.
  • Expanding funding to cover advanced security services provided by a school system’s internet service provider.
  • Clarifying or updating the definition of "basic firewall" to align with technology industry standard.
  • Making managed security services and/or security operations center services eligible for E-Rate funding.
  • Adding web content filtering to the list of discounted services and making it a covered expense.

To give students more time to complete their homework, CoSN is urging the FCC to allow districts to utilize E-rate funds to install WiFi on school buses. The school advocacy group also wants the E-rate program to continue providing funding for caching, managed internal broadband services and the basic maintenance of internal connections.

CoSN is asking the FCC to give districts the ability to submit district-wide budgets to determine their E-rate funding needs and establish a five-year budget cycle for funding. In addition, CoSN is seeking an increase in the program's category two funding mechanisms to account for inflation.

The full report and written comments 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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