To fulfill President Obama’s goal under the ConnectED initiative to connect 99% of the nation’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and wireless in four years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an E-Rate modernization order on July 11, 2014, that directs at least $1 billion in support for Wi-Fi for FY 2015 and FY 2016. The order also begins a multi-year transition of all program funding to broadband by gradually phasing down support for non-broadband services. The order also seeks to maximize E-Rate spending by incentivizing consortia and bulk purchasing and streamlining the application process. The new E-Rate rules will be in place in time to support Wi-Fi upgrades beginning in the 2015−2016 school year.
The order, approved on a party-line vote by the FCC, was seen as a huge advocacy success for NASSP and our partners in the Education and Libraries Network Coalition (EdLiNC) who were apprehensive about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s draft proposal that was circulated in June. Though the proposal aimed to “close the Wi-Fi gap, make E-Rate dollars go farther, and bring E-Rate into the 21st century,” our coalition expressed concern that the proposal fell short and did not provide a plan for sustained funding and support.
A letter backed by more than a dozen groups, including NASSP, expressed concerns on the ability of the FCC to pay for its $5 billion, five-year plan to invest in internal Wi-Fi without a permanent increase to the program’s $2.4 billion funding cap, which was not included in Wheeler’s draft proposal. Though the FCC had repurposed $2 billion in existing funds to prioritize broadband, our organizations were doubtful that an additional $3 billion would appear in funding. NASSP staff also attended meetings with FCC officials in June to convey these concerns in person.
Following the order, the FCC released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the E-Rate program on July 23 that seeks comments on:
- Ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband sufficient to support digital learning in schools and robust connectivity for all libraries
- Maximizing the cost-effectiveness of spending for E-Rate supported purchases
- Making the E-Rate application process and other E-Rate processes fast, simple, and efficient
NASSP believes that technology can increase equity and access to educational opportunities for all students and enhance the impact and reach of great teaching in schools. But we know that teachers and students will only use those tools if they can rely on the connectivity of their broadband network and Wi-Fi capacity. For this reason, we will continue to advocate for a robust E-Rate program and encourage the FCC to permanently raise the funding cap.
NASSP will be submitting joint comments with EdLiNC to the FCC and individual comments on behalf of our members before the deadline on September 15, 2014. Principals are also encouraged to send comments directly to the FCC.