What’s up with e-rate? Some schools are waiting months for answers!

E-Rate just celebrated its 20th birthday. The National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training held the party, where they talked about the history of the program. Here’s the quick answer on what the E-Rate is…

The E-Rate is part of the federal universal service program, a support mechanism that was created in 1934 to ensure that rural consumers had affordable phone service. Championed by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives and authorized under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, E-Rate provides public and private schools and public libraries with deep discounts on broadband, Internet access services and internal Wi-Fi.  In order to meet growing demand for E-Rate support, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) increased E-Rate’s annual funding cap to $3.9 billion in 2014. E-Rate funds are not appropriated, but are fees collected (along with other universal service programs) from consumer phone bills.

 

The FCC had published a report on the recent success of E-Rate in 2017; that report has since be removed from the FCC’s website but here’s a high level look at the success (from an article that outlines the highs and lows of E-Rate) …

 

According its January 2017 report, the FCC’s modernization push enabled some 77% of school districts to meet the minimum federal connectivity targets by the end of 2016; just 30% had met those requirements in 2013. (That is, Internet speeds of 100 Mbps per 1000 users.) During the same period, the cost that schools paid for Internet connectivity fell from $22 to $7 per Mbps.

Having worked in libraries and schools and having heard many presentations on E-Rate (from MN Task Force meetings, webinars and other) what I’ve always heard is that the process is cumbersome but the funding made a difference in getting schools online. It seems though that the program may be hitting a bumpy road. The Morning Consult posted an editorial from Evan Marwell is the founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway…

Two-hundred forty-five days. School districts are waiting this long for the Federal Communications Commission to make decisions on the fate of funding to bring fiber connectivity to their classrooms. That’s 65 days longer than the average school year. And for Woodman School in rural Montana, it means another school year that students must be bused to a neighboring district for assessments because high-speed internet access is not an option. No school should have to wait that long to provide basic educational opportunity for its students. In January, education organizations recognized the 20th anniversary of E-rate—the FCC program that has connected 39 million students to the broadband they need for the jobs of tomorrow. We’ve come a long way, but we also need to address the emerging red tape that is stalling our students’ learning progress. Unless there is a focused commitment to make sure schools can proceed with planned fiber projects, nearly 750,000 students — mostly in rural areas — will be left on the wrong side of a digital divide, disconnected from the same learning opportunities as students in other regions. These learning opportunities were once luxuries in classrooms, but they are now vital for college and career readiness. Already, 50 percent of jobs require some digital skills. By the end of the decade, 77 percent will require technological skills. Our students will not be ready for what tomorrow brings if we don’t equip their schools with the broadband infrastructure they need. We made it a priority to strengthen the E-rate program six years ago. The program was modernized for the broadband needs of today. And now, we need USAC to finish the job. [USAC is the organization that manages Universal Service Programs for the FCC.

This entry was posted in education, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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