FCC Adds New Choices for E-Rate Program

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Communications Commission gave schools and libraries more options to obtain cost-effective, high-speed broadband and to provide connectivity for students at home.

The National Broadband Plan laid out a series of recommendations to promote broadband-enabled, cutting-edge learning inside and outside the classroom. One of the key recommendations is modernizing the FCC’s E-rate program, which was established by Congress to bring connectivity to all schools and libraries across America. Although 97 percent of American schools and nearly all public libraries now have basic Internet access, the program's rules have locked many schools into expensive contracts for broadband that is too slow to keep up with the high-tech tools that are now essential for a world-class education. According to a recent FCC survey, 78 percent of E-rate recipients say they need faster connections to meet the speed and capacity demands of their students, teachers, and library patrons.

The FCC’s E-rate Order makes it easier for schools and libraries to get the highest speeds for the lowest prices by increasing their options for broadband providers and streamlining the application process. The Order is another advance in the Commission’s ongoing transformation of the Universal Service Fund, of which the E-rate program is part, to deploy broadband throughout America.

The FCC’s upgrades to E-rate include:

• Super-Fast Fiber: The FCC’s E-rate Order will help bring affordable, super-fast fiber connections to America’s schools and libraries. It allows participants to use E-rate funds to connect to the Internet in the most cost-effective way possible, including via unused fiber optic lines already in place across the country and through existing state, regional and local networks. With these fiber networks, schools and libraries can provide students and communities with cutting-edge connectivity, while at the same time saving millions of dollars by bypassing more expensive options.

• School Spots: The FCC is also opening the door to “School Spots” -- where schools have the option to provide Internet access to the local community after students go home. With affordable fiber, these School Spots are a major step toward the National Broadband Plan’s goal of connecting an anchor institution in every community to affordable 1 gigabit per second broadband. School Spots will help ensure that people who otherwise lack access can use broadband.

• Learning On-the-Go: The FCC is launching a pilot program that supports off-campus wireless Internet connectivity for mobile learning devices. Education doesn’t stop at the schoolyard gate or the library door. Digital textbooks and other innovative wireless devices allow students to learn in a real-world context, inside the classroom and beyond. Because of their low cost and accessibility, these mobile devices can also help advance digital equality, particularly for children from economically disadvantaged communities.

• 21st Century E-rate Program: The Order makes the program more effective and efficient by:

o Indexing the cap on E-rate funding to inflation in a fiscally responsible manner, so that the program can more fully meet the needs of students and communities. Since 1997 when the E-rate program started, inflation has raised costs 30 percent but the program has remained capped, significantly decreasing its effective purchasing power. Earlier this month, the Commission reserved hundreds of millions of dollars annually from another program of the Universal Service Fund to cover the incremental E-rate support (less than $25 million next year) it is providing, without growing the overall size of the Universal Service Fund.

o Supporting connections to the dormitories of schools that serve students facing unique challenges, such as Tribal schools or schools for children with physical, cognitive, or behavioral disabilities.

o Bolstering protections against waste, fraud, and abuse by codifying competitive bidding requirements and clarifying ethics obligations.

o Streamlining the E-rate application process for educators and librarians.

Formally called the Schools and Libraries Universal Service program, the E-rate program provides up to $2.25 billion annually to support telephone and Internet connections at schools and libraries across the country. The program supports both the cost of telecommunications and Internet service and the installation of internal networks.


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