Policy & Funding

New Push Made for FCC to Add Funding for Cybersecurity to E-rate

A group of K-12 organizations has banded together to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to incorporate cybersecurity purchases into the E-rate program. The goal of the 35-page petition is to help school districts protect their networks and data by expanding E-rate in three ways:

  • By defining all firewall and related features as "basic" beginning in funding year 2021;

  • Increasing E-rate's five-year Category 2 budget cap in future funding years to support additional cybersecurity investments; and

  • Updating the agency's definition of "broadband" to include cybersecurity.

The filing was done by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN); the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA); the State E-rate Coordinators' Alliance (SECA); the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed); Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB); and the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS).

"With cyberattacks threatening the broadband networks and data of schools, including the school systems serving some of the country's most economically and academically vulnerable students, the Commission must update the E-rate program to cover firewalls and related features," the petition noted. "Achieving broadband equity for students will not be possible if school networks and sensitive student and employee data remain at the mercy of cyber-attackers. The Commission should address this need expeditiously to help schools prevent further attacks during the expanded remote learning required by the pandemic."

CoSN and Funds for Learning published a report in January 2021, providing a cost estimate for E-rate cybersecurity. Adding next-generation firewalls to every district supported by E-rate would cost about $738 million annually. Building in endpoint protection as well would boost that yearly total to $1.6 billion. And adding "advanced+ security" (such as multi-factor authentication) would take the annual price tag up to $2.4 billion.

The cost estimates were based on an analysis of five-year price models for third-party hardware, software and cloud-based services used to guard schools from online attacks. Cost data was provided on a confidential basis by leading cybersecurity manufacturers.

"The reality is that, nowadays, school districts are home to a vast amount of valuable personal data that cybercriminals are interested in stealing--that is why the FBI has warned that K-12 education is the most targeted public sector for ransomware attacks. But schools lack the federal funding required to effectively combat these intrusions," said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, in a statement. "We provided a comprehensive report that lays out the key elements of how to secure these vulnerable school networks, including costs, so that the FCC can take action on this critical issue."

"As cyberattacks on school networks have expanded, so, too, has the need for more robust firewalls and other cybersecurity devices. We are regularly asked by school technology officials whether and when E-rate funding will be made available for this purpose," added Debra Kriete, SECA chair. "We hope the FCC will agree that E-rate funding should be made available to help pay for sufficient cyber-protections."

"The E-rate program is relied upon to provide financial aid for internet connections to 95 percent of K-12 students. E-rate offers the most practical, efficient and cost-effective infrastructure to mount a strong defense against prolific cybersecurity attacks in K-12 education," noted John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning. "We encourage the FCC to leverage E-rate to administer aid for cybersecurity measures outlined in this report."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.