FCC Continues E-rate Reboot to Meet Nation's Digital Learning Needs

The Federal Communications Commission approved further modernization of its E-rate program, the nation’s largest program supporting education technology. The FCC’s actions close the connectivity gap through continued efforts to lower the prices schools and libraries pay for connectivity, and by increasing the amount of support available for connections to the Internet, known as category one of the program. Based on a comprehensive record, the Order raises the spending cap on the E-rate program from the current $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion -- the first reset of the cap since it was initially set at $2.25 million in 1997, an amount that wasn’t adjusted for inflation until 2010.

The Order also takes further steps to improve the overall administration of the program and maximizes the options schools and libraries have for purchasing affordable high-speed broadband connectivity by:

  • Suspending the requirement that applicants seek funding for large up front construction costs over several years, and allowing applicants to pay their share of one-time, up-front construction costs over multiple years
  • Equalizing the treatment of schools and libraries seeking support for dark fiber with those seeking support for lit fiber. Dark fiber leases allow the purchase of capacity without the service of transmitting data – lighting the fiber. Dark fiber can be an especially cost-effective option for smaller, rural districts
  • Allowing schools and libraries to build high-speed broadband facilities themselves when that is the most cost-effective option, subject to a number of safeguards
  • Providing an incentive for state support of last-mile broadband facilities through a match from E-rate of up to 10% of the cost of construction, with special consideration for Tribal schools
  • Requiring carriers that receive subsidies from the universal service program for rural areas – called the High Cost program – to offer high-speed broadband to schools and libraries located in geographic areas receiving those subsidies at rates reasonably comparable to similar services in urban areas
  • Increasing the certainty and predictability of funding for Wi-Fi by expanding the five-year budget approach to providing more equitable support for internal connections – known as category two – through funding year 2019

FCC Continues E-rate Reboot to Meet Nation's Digital Learning Needs For 40 million students, classroom Internet is way too slow. This’ll change all that. (Washington Post) FCC hikes rates to fund Internet in schools (The Hill) Phone Bills Set to Rise as FCC Votes to Fund More School Internet Access (Recode) FCC increases funding to boost Internet speeds at schools, libraries (LA Times) Divided FCC Votes To Expand E-Rate (Multichannel News)