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A divided FCC votes to modernize school and library E-rate

13 Jul, 2014

Despite Republican opposition, the three Democratic FCC commissioners voted to modernize the E-rate program, adding an additional $2 billion to schools and libraries for improved Wi-Fi services. This is a one-time only source of funding derived from E-rate efficiencies, and which will be used to fund Wi-Fi for the next two years.

The continuing E-rate funding will remain capped at $2.4 billion – plus an annual inflation adjustment. This money will first provide subsidies for broadband connectivity to schools and libraries, before making any of this funding available for Wi-Fi.

As the FCC said today, “... the FCC’s reforms can deliver the benefits of customized learning to students over tablets and laptops and enable library patrons to fully participate in today’s digital world.”

Officially, today marked adoption of an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This will, according to the FCC, accomplish three major goals:

•    “Significantly expand funding for Wi-Fi networks and distribute it fairly to all schools and libraries while recognizing the needs of the nation’s rural and poorest school districts
•    “Maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate spending through greater pricing transparency, encouraging consortia and bulk purchasing, and better enforcement of existing rules
•    “Streamline and simplify the E-rate application process and overall program administration”

In response, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said, “Today’s vote by the Federal Communication Commission to preserve the ongoing Internet connectivity in America’s schools and libraries is a win for students.”

And American Library Association President Courtney Young said, “This Order represents a solid first step toward increasing library participation in the E-rate program and moving our communities toward the gigabit speeds increasingly needed to support Wi-Fi, digital learning and multimedia collections.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wanted the commission to raise the current $2.4 billion cap to keep pace with inflation. That would have added an additional annual $1 billion. But that will be left to future FCC action.

However, Rosenworcel summed up the general positive feeling among the Democrats:

“Today we start the process of rebooting, reinvigorating, and recharging the E-Rate program. E-Rate is the nation’s largest education technology program. It has a proud history and if we do our part here at the Commission, I think it can have an even brighter future.”

Speed Matters supports E-rate and its expansion.

FCC modernizes E-rate program... in the nation’s schools and libraries (FCC news release, Jul. 11, 2014)

NEA supports E-Rate proposed changes that keep Internet connectivity intact
(NEA news release, Jul. 11, 2014)

ALA welcomes forward movement on E-rate modernization (ALA news release, Jul. 11, 2014)

Statement of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on E-rate (FCC news release, Jul. 11, 2014)


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