As the details of
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s E-Rate modernization
plan became public last week, we reached out to ISTE members to better
understand how the proposal would affect individual school districts. After
gathering information from district leaders, it has become clear that the
chairman’s proposal, as we understand it, will put significant financial strain
on many districts, negatively impact parental communication, exacerbate digital
inequities among schools and possibly weaken school safety measures.
First, the phase-out of E-Rate support for voice services as well as the
elimination of web hosting and email will reduce many school district budgets by
tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Web hosting and email are services
districts simply cannot live without. As a result of losing E-Rate support,
we’ve heard that some districts will have to make up the proposed funding cuts
by laying off staff. Members have also raised concerns that communication with
parents may be degraded and the security of student email and overall school
safety could be compromised.
Second, the amount of funding many districts will be eligible to receive
under the new Wi-Fi program will be significantly less than the level of support
they would have otherwise received for voice, web hosting and email services. As
a result, many district leaders have informed us that they won’t have the
institutional matching dollars for Wheeler’s Wi-Fi initiative because any
“extra” dollars they have will be directed toward shoring up the budget holes
left by the cuts to voice, email and web hosting.
Finally, we have heard grave concerns from our members about the inequities
of the proposed one-size-fits-all formula funding for the Wi-Fi initiative. This
approach adversely impacts small and rural schools, as these communities, simply
due to their size, are already working with fewer resources and rely heavily on
support from the E-Rate program. In fact, the original intent for universal
service was to ensure that rural and remote communities were connected.
Based on these consultations with and input from educators across the
country, we issued a press
statement highlighting in more detail our concerns about Commissioner
Wheeler’s proposal. We also submitted a petition to the FCC expressing the
voices of 1,500 educators across the country in support of E-Rate modernization
that includes an increase in funding to the oversubscribed, underfunded and
highly successful E-Rate program.