FCC revamps E-Rate – got any advice for them?

The FCC is looking at modifying E-rate. The E-Rate has often been credited with getting American schools and libraries online…

E-rate was established in 1997 and represents the federal government’s largest education technology program. When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, only 14 percent of classrooms had Internet; today it’s near 100%. To date, the E-rate program has successfully connected virtually all U.S. schools and libraries (97% of U.S. classrooms) to the Internet.

Over the past 15 years, support provided by the E-rate program has helped revolutionize schools’ and libraries’ access to modern communications networks, but the needs of schools and libraries are changing.

Earlier President Obama had asked the FCC to consider means for a “swifter transition to the digital era.” Some ideas have been suggested and the FCC is currently inviting comments from the public on the following ideas…

The Commission proposes three goals for a modernized E-rate program: Increased Broadband Capacity; Cost-Effective Purchasing; and Streamlined Program Administration

Increased Broadband Capacity: To ensure schools and libraries have affordable access to 21st century broadband, the notice of proposed rulemaking seeks comment on a range of approaches to focus funds on high-capacity broadband, including:

  • Simplifying rules on fiber deployment to lower barriers to new construction
  • Prioritizing funding for new fiber deployments that will drive higher speeds and long-term efficiency
  • Phasing out support for services like paging and directory assistance
  • Ensuring that schools and libraries can access funding for modern high-speed Wi-Fi networks in classrooms and library buildings
  • Allocating funding on a simplified, per-student basis

Cost-Effective Purchasing: To maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate purchases, the proposal seeks comment on:

  • Increasing consortium purchasing to drive down prices
  • Creating other bulk buying opportunities and increasing pricing transparency
  • Increasing transparency on how E-rate dollars are spent
  • Improving the competitive bidding process
  • Creating a pilot program to incentivize and test more cost-effective purchasing practices

Streamlined Program Administration: To streamline the administration of the E-rate program, the proposal seeks comment on:

  • Speeding review of E-rate applications
  • Providing a streamlined electronic filing system and requiring electronic filing of all documents
  • Increasing the transparency of USAC’s processes
  • Simplifying the eligible services list and adopting more efficient ways to disburse E-rate funds
  • Streamlining the E-rate appeals process

Outstanding Issues:

The proposal also seeks comment on a variety of other issues, including:

  • The applicability of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to devices brought into schools and libraries, and to devices provided by schools and libraries for at-home use
  • Adjusting to changes to the National School Lunch Program that affect E-rate
  • Additional measures for protecting the program from waste, fraud and abuse
This entry was posted in economic development, FCC, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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