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E-Rate order passes: A victory for educators’ voices

By Hilary Goldmann 7/11/2014 Advocacy Technology infrastucture

The E-Rate order approved today by the Federal Communications Commission was a significant improvement over FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s initial draft proposal. We’d like to thank all of the educators who raised their voices and shared their input about how to best modernize the E-Rate program. We are pleased that, in the end, their voices were heard.

While the order is not yet public — and may not become available for a few weeks — we have learned some of its key points:

  • It includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to study the long-term funding needs of the E-Rate program. This provision is a major victory for ISTE and its members as it mandates that the FCC will consider increasing the E-Rate cap.
  • It protects the structural integrity of the E-Rate program by ensuring that Priority 1 internet access services will be fully funded and sheltered from incursion in the likely event that Wi-Fi demand exceeds available funding.
  • Rather than permanently altering the structure of Priority 2, the order establishes a temporary Wi-Fi program, funded at $1 billion for each of the next two years, which will sunset unless the FCC takes further action. Wi-Fi program funds will be disseminated via formulas that will provide eligible schools and libraries with $150 per student or $2.30 per public library square foot once during the two-year period. This formula will disappear after two years and the normal Priority 2 discount matrix will replace it. The order also increases the chairman’s proposed floor for Wi-Fi awards to small population schools from $6,000 to $9,000, an issue that ISTE advocated for. It also lowers the top tier discount matrix for Wi-Fi recipients from 90 percent to 85 percent. The original order would have required that the lowest income schools and libraries pay an additional 5 percent of the costs of Wi-Fi services.
  • It preserves support for Priority 1 internet access services but, as expected, phases out voice services over the next four years and immediately eliminates support for all other non-broadband services, including email and web hosting. 

Today, Brian Lewis, ISTE CEO stated:

 “We applaud the commission’s conviction to do what’s right for education and launch a serious conversation about change that E-Rate truly needs – more funding. Our community has spoken, and the need for additional support is real. The commission did the right thing today by issuing a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the E-Rate funding cap. We hope that a final decision on increasing the program’s annual funding cap will come quickly.

“We also appreciate the commission’s willingness to listen to educators and make meaningful improvements to this order. We support many of the practical steps that the Commission adopted today and its commitment to retain the E-Rate’s core principles and flexibility as the foundations of a modernized E-Rate program. We believe that the commission’s efforts to promote Wi-Fi and broadband in our nation’s classrooms and libraries, coupled with increased funding in the not-too-distant future, has the potential to provide all students with the connectivity necessary for learning in the digital age.”

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