Has Pros and Cons
By Hilary Goldmann
ISTE’s director of
government affairs, has
20 years of experience
in public policy and
advocacy. Her column
appears in every other
issue of L&L.
ISTE strongly supports E-Rate, a U.S. gov- ernment program that enables schools and libraries to purchase telecommunications and
Internet service at a discounted rate. More than
90% of the nation’s classrooms have Internet
connectivity as a result of E-Rate.
A recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling changes the E-Rate program
in several ways. ISTE has been advocating for
some of the revisions, but others raise concerns.
ISTE issued a statement about the ruling as
part of the Education and Library Networks
Coalition, an organization in which ISTE
plays a leadership role. The statement reads:
EdLiNC wholeheartedly supports many
of the changes that today’s order adopts,
including rule changes to streamline the
E-Rate application process and to make
leased dark fiber eligible for discount, but
we remain extremely concerned that the
Commission has yet to adequately address
the biggest problem facing the program:
lack of funding.
The FCC ruling adjusts E-Rate’s funding cap
annually in accordance with inflation. The government caps funding for the program at $2.25
billion and has for a decade. Although this is a
significant amount, data show that the demand
for the program far exceeds the cap. The FCC’s
ruling to adjust the cap based on inflation is a
step in the right direction, but funding is still
far below the demand and need.
The ruling will also:
• Allow the leasing of fiber optics as an eligible
Priority 1 service (Internet access) and allow
applicants to lease dark or lit fiber optics from
the most cost-effective provider, including but
not limited to telecommunications carriers
and others, such as research education networks; regional, state, and local government
entities or networks; nonprofit and for-profit
providers; and utility companies. This change
provides more options and flexibility for
schools and may lower their costs.
• Make permanent a waiver that lets schools
allow community members to use E-Rate
services outside of school hours.
• Create an off-campus wireless connectivity
pilot program to “investigate the merits and
challenges of wireless off-premises connectivity services and to help us determine whether
they should ultimately be eligible for E-Rate
support.” Although ISTE wholeheartedly supports school-to-home connectivity, there are
concerns about creating new programs and
new eligible services under the E-Rate program without significant investment of additional funding to pay for them.
• Streamline the application process. The ruling
removes the technology-plan requirement for
Priority 1 services. However, applicants who
request Priority 2 funding (for internal connections and basic maintenance) must still
complete a technology plan.
To learn more about E-Rate, visit www.fcc.gov/
learnnet or www.edlinc.org.