E-Rate Revisions Seen as Good First Step

Author: Ian Quillen
Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC, 20554, United States

It's a good start. That seems to be the general feeling among educational technology advocates about the recent reforms to the federal E-rate program, whether they are applauding a new funding index for inflation, the allowance for "dark fiber" connections, or the funding of pilot wireless-learning programs.

While the revisions that were adopted to the $2.25 billion program at the Federal Communications Commission's Sept. 23 meeting generally have been welcomed, experts say there is still work to do before the program -- set up in 1997 to fund discounts for schools and libraries to connect to the Internet—can address fully contemporary technology demands. Educators laud indexing the funding cap for inflation, but they say funding still needs to be expanded far beyond that level. They praise the new option of extending E-rate-funded Internet services to the community after school hours, but question if "school spots" are an effective solution for sparsely populated districts. And while some worry a pilot program to pay for, according to the FCC's written order, a "handful" of wireless education efforts would divert money from campus initiatives, others say it's a baby step on a long path toward truly supporting mobile learning. In short, experts say the FCC's revisions may show that it is in tune with the changing technology needs of schools, but that it also has chosen the simplest solutions to bring about the swiftest change.



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