The Federal Communications Commission, in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) released yesterday, declared that connection to the Internet alone will no longer be the standard of success for the E-rate program. Speed and capacity of the Internet connection will be the new standard and efficiency and transparency will be the goal for program administration. The NPRM outlines a number of ideas on how to achieve these new standards and requests stakeholder input. BB&K will be assembling a coalition of local governments and local educators to provide input to the FCC. Comments in the proceeding are due September 16; reply comments will be due by October 16.
The Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (more commonly called the E-rate program) provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. It is the federal government’s largest educational technology program. The program was established in the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, when only 14 percent of the nation's K-12 classrooms had access to the Internet. Today, virtually every library and school in the nation is connected to the Internet.
Spending on the E-rate program is capped at $2.25 billion per year, indexed to inflation since 2010. For the 2013 funding year, schools and libraries sought E-rate funding in excess of $4.9 billion, more than twice the 2013 cap of $2.4 billion. Demand has exceeded the E-rate cap every year since the program's inception.
Notice of Proposed Rule Making Questions
With its release of the NPRM, the FCC is initiating a full review to modernize the program centered around three proposed goals on which the Commission asks for input:
Increasing Broadband Capacity. The Commission asks how it can: simplify rules on fiber deployment to lower barriers to new construction; prioritize funding for new fiber deployments that will drive higher speeds and long-term efficiency; phase out support for non-broadband services like paging and directory assistance; ensure schools and libraries can access funding for modern high-speed Wi-Fi networks in classrooms and library buildings; and allocate funding on a simplified, per-student basis.
Cost-effective Purchasing. The Commission asks how it can: increase consortium purchasing to drive down prices; create other bulk buying opportunities; increase transparency of prices and spending; and improve the competitive bidding processes. It also unveils a pilot program to incentivize and test more cost-effective purchasing practices.
Streamlining Program Administration. The Commission asks how it can: speed the review of applications; shift from a paper to electronic filing system; simplify the eligible services list; find more efficient ways to disburse E-rate funds; reduce unused E-rate funding; and streamline the appeals process.