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WASHINGTON, D.C. – FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated an E-Rate Modernization Proposal last week to his fellow commissioners to help revitalize the E-Rate program nationally with heavy focus on closing the Wi-Fi gap in schools.
During the past 18 years, E-Rate has helped transform schools’ and libraries’ access to modern communications networks. But, educational connectivity has changed.
Where it once was revolutionary to connect a computer lab down the hall to the Internet, harnessing the full value of digital learning today means enabling all students to go online from their desk or from any library workspace.
Chairman Wheeler’s proposed order is the next major step in a comprehensive modernization of E-Rate, the first such effort since the program’s creation 18 years ago.
The draft order is focused heavily on closing the Wi-Fi gap, while ensuring E-Rate money is spent smartly and improves program administration. It is the next step in what will be an ongoing process to modernize the program this year.
Below is a listing of Chairman Wheeler’s proposal:
The Breakdown on Wi-Fi
• Commit at least $1 billion in support to Wi-Fi next year to connect more than 10 million students across the country in 2015, followed by another $1 billion in 2016 with “predictable” support continuing in future years.
• Provide multi-year funding predictability to ensure widespread and equitable distribution of support, and stop cutting rural schools out of Wi-Fi funding.
• Begin a multi-year transition of program funding to broadband, by gradually phasing down support for non-broadband services.
• Adopt clear broadband goals to measure overall program success, while maintaining local flexibility to determine the needs of individual schools and libraries.
Stretching E-Rate Dollars
• Set the maximum program match at 4-to-1, which means for every dollar the poorest schools spend, the program will spend four – for Wi-Fi services to promote cost-effective decision-making.
• Speed consortium applications to drive down prices.
• Increase transparency on how E-Rate dollars are spent and on prices charged for E-Rate services.
• Leverage GSA pricing so schools can buy for less.
Streamlining Applications and Processes
• Fast, simple process for multi-year applications.
• Expedited process for small-dollar, cost-effective applications.
• Speed review of all applications.
• Move to electronic filing of all documents.
• Simplify discount calculations.
• Zero tolerance for fraud or abuse: toughen document retention and site inspection rules.
Actions by the FCC this summer would allow new E-Rate rules to be in place for 2015, which would support Wi-Fi upgrades across the country in time for the 2015-2016 school year. While this order is focused on closing the Wi- Fi gap, Chairman Wheeler said he remains committed to an ongoing E-Rate modernization process to address other important connectivity issues faced by schools and libraries.
The E-Rate program has played a vital role in connecting U.S. schools and libraries. It was established in the 1996 Telecommunications Act and is the federal government’s largest education technology program.
When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, according to FCC figures, only 14 percent of classrooms had Internet and most schools with Internet access (74 percent) used dial-up Internet access. By 2005, the E-Rate program had successfully connected 94 percent of U.S. classrooms to the Internet, and by 2006, nearly all public libraries were connected to the Internet (98 percent).