FCC Commissioner: E-rate Needs Overhaul to Improve Schools’ Online Access

Managing Editor

A member of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday offered a detailed and far-reaching case for overhauling the E-rate program in order to ensure Web access for students and schools amid rising demands for online access.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for creating an “E-rate 2.0” and said that the pressures that are being put on school districts by the common-core online assessments, and an overall, increasing emphasis on Web-based learning have put on strain on districts’ online capacity.

Eighty percent of the nation’s schools and libraries today say that their broadband connections do not meet their needs, the commissioner told attendees at an event arranged by the Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology in Education, and the State Educational

Technology Directors Association, in coordination with the Software and Information Industry Association’s Ed Tech Government Forum.

“Let’s be honest,” she said, according to a FCC-provided copy of her remarks. “Those needs are only going to grow. School administrators are facing tough choices about limited bandwidth in the classroom. How to divvy it up, what grades and classrooms get it, and what programs they can run on it.”

Established by Congress in 1996, the E-rate is designed to ensure that all schools and libraries, particularly those in disadvantaged or rural communities, have communications services, including the Internet. The program receives funding through fees collected from telecommunications providers, and is administered by the FCC and managed by the Universal Service Administrative Co., a nonprofit organization.

Schools and libraries do not obtain funding directly from the program, but instead apply to receive discounts on the costs of service. Discounts vary, with greater amounts going to poorer applicants.

Demand for the program has created a need for more money to flow to schools, Rosenworcel told the industry group.

“E-rate 2.0 needs more funding,” she said. The program’s size was set 15 years ago, she noted: “That was when .03 percent of of American households had Internet access.”

Rosenworcel recommended a number of steps to help schools through the E-rate, such as redirecting savings generated by audits of another Universal Service program, establishing more public-private partnerships, and setting clear capacity goals for schools seeking money through the program.

For more details on what the commissioner is recommending, see my full post on the Digital Education blog.

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