E-rate/Schools and Libraries Program
All it takes is a nationwide crisis to underline the most glaring equity issues our society faces. The one that has captured my attention during COVID-19 is the chronic lack of home internet access for people of color, low-income households, and rural residents. That lack of access puts schools in an especially difficult position as they expand their use of technology during the pandemic, and beyond. It's important to remember that this technology challenge has been staring us in the face for decades. It is not just a COVID-19 issue—it is a civil rights issue of the utmost importance.
The Federal Communications Commission’s top priority must be connecting all Americans to modern high-speed communications networks. Solving this problem was always a moral imperative, and COVID-19 has raised the stakes.
Built by E-Rate A Case Study of Two Tribally-Owned Fiber Networks and the Role of Libraries in Making It Happen
Six tribal libraries and two schools in north-central New Mexico aggregated their demand for broadband and built two tribally-owned and -operated, 60-mile fiber-optic networks. The first tribal projects of their kind since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the E-rate modernization in 2014, and the largest E-rate award in the state of New Mexico in 2016—the highspeed broadband networks deliver superior speeds at significantly lower costs, with an ability to scale their usage to meet future broadband demand.
How courageous schools partnering with local communities can overcome digital inequalities during COVID-19
Leveraging high-speed broadband access, I present several ideas for ensuring all K-12 students can learn during a time of in-person schooling shutdowns and other uncertainties: transform vacant local establishments into classrooms and provide technology access through unused business equipment; enable Wi-Fi in federally assisted housing or in parked school buses; reconfigure digital parking lots into digital parks; and utilize local organizations to help solve local digital access challenges.
In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that FCC’s ability to deter and detect alleged Erate program fraud has been severely limited since the program’s inception due to a lack of certain controls. Also, as recently as February 2020, a number of E-rate program participants pled guilty to defrauding the program by billing for equipment and services that were not provided, and obtaining more than $2.6 million in program funds to which they were not entitled. GAO was asked to review fraud risk management in the E-rate program.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau opened a second funding year 2020 filing window to allow schools to request additional E-Rate funding specifically to address increased on-campus bandwidth needs. Schools across the United States continue to face unprecedented disruptions and challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the school year begins, many school districts are relying on remote learning, either in whole or in part, to educate students.
America’s broadband providers have stepped up with the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband” to help meet the needs of millions of low-income American students who are unable to get on the internet so they can go to class from home. The new program will do two things the Trump Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to do. First, it will identify households with students that have broadband passing their door but have chosen not to subscribe.
Ensuring all US households have high-speed internet will help provide similar education opportunities to students at different income levels, particularly during the pandemic, Democrats said. “Education justice involves giving everybody the same access to information,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL).
Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is widely considered among the frontrunners to lead the FCC under a Biden administration. Protocol spoke with Commissioner Rosenworcel about whether the process around President Donald Trump's social media executive order has become corrupt, why she thinks FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is dropping the ball when it comes to helping students get internet access, and what she thinks a Democratic administration should prioritize on tech policy.