Today is December 11, 2014, a historic day for the E-Rate program. An increase of funding was enacted today. This could have a very positive effect on schools and libraries depending on what USAC does next. My E-Rate holiday wish list includes ideas that could help the FCC and USAC maximize the impact of the E-Rate program. Let’s explore why additional funding is needed. First, a quick look at the program:
Intention of E-Rate:
• Help K-12 Schools’ and Public Libraries’ students, staff and patrons gain access to Broadband and Telecommunications technologies.
• In 1997, $2.25 Billion was the amount to be distributed.
• In 2010 this cap began rising by the rate of inflation.
• In funding year 2014, $2.4 Billion was available.
• 2012, requests for “Priority 1” funding (Internet Access Services, Telecommunications Services) eclipsed the total number of dollars in the program and continues to increase.
• All requests in 2012 including “Priority 2” funding (internal connections such as routing, switching, WiFi, telecommunications systems, structured wiring, etc.) totaled $5.2 Billion.
Another important fact:
• Telecommunications requests comprise one-third of all the funding requested.
So, in July of 2014 the FCC modernized the E-Rate program. The goal was to insure that Internet Access Services and internal connections were both funded, and that these funds were distributed fairly. In order to accomplish this the FCC had to decrease funding in some way, increase the number of dollars in the program, or both. The July modernization order tackled the former, removing telecommunications in “Priority 2” (now called Category 2) altogether and initiating multi-year phase-out of telecommunications services in “Priority 1” (now called Category 1), removing Voice Mail altogether for both categories, etc.
With fewer dollars funding telecommunications technologies, the FCC and USAC anticipate the ability to fund Category 2 internal connections requests. In order to distribute this fairly, a cap of $150 per student over a five-year period is established. The intention, of course, is for these changes to allow E-Rate to continue to fund both Category 1 and Category 2 requests consistently into the future. However, USAC only guarantees Category 2 funding of $1 Billion for the first two years of the modernization.
OK, so that brings us to today. Today the FCC addressed the number of dollars in the E-Rate program. We have an increase from $2.4 Billion to $3.9 Billion, an increase of 62.5%!
Here is my holiday wish list for this additional funding:
1) USAC: Please guarantee funding of Category 2 for the full five-year cycle, not just the first 2 years. Schools need to be confident that this funding will continue. It is important for their technology and curriculum planning.
2) FCC and USAC: Please restore funding for telecommunications, at least in some limited fashion. Districts we talk to understand the need to modernize and future-proof their telecommunications/collaboration systems, and need financial help to make it a reality.
3) USAC: Please continue to look for ways that all schools can benefit from Category 2 funding in each of the 5 years in the cycle. I believe the first item on my wish list will have some impact on this, but there are additional ways to help schools and libraries have the ability to predict accurately what funding they will receive each year.
If these three items are on your E-Rate holiday wish list as well, feel free to contact your representatives in the House and Senate. Your voices need to be heard on this critical subject!
Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on the E-Rate modernization and this recent increase in funding. Please comment below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.