In an effort to ensure that more schools have access to high-speed broadband and wireless connections, NASSP has submitted comments in response to a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the E-Rate program that was issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on July 23. NASSP also signed on to comments submitted by the Education and Libraries Network Coalition (EdLiNC), a group comprised of the leading public and private education associations and the American Library Association that was formed to promote and improve the E-Rate program to fulfill its mission of accelerating the deployment of advanced telecommunications and information services in schools and libraries.
Our individual and coalition comments both urge the FCC to immediately and permanently increase the E-Rate program’s annual funding level. For years, we have argued that the program requires additional funding to upgrade these basic Internet connections to broadband. Without the ability to access greater bandwidth speeds in classrooms, our nation’s students would be hamstrung in their efforts to use of digital textbooks, participate in online and distance learning courses, and take online assessments. In addition, we have consistently maintained that the E-Rate’s annual funding cap, essentially unchanged from its inception, is grossly inadequate to fund the bandwidth increases so many schools require with the growing use of laptops and digital devices.
Experts in the field suggest that the $1 billion annually (or $5 billion over five years) the FCC has committed for the E-Rate program is simply inadequate for WiFi build out and sustainability costs. The CoSN/Education Superhighway study of public school costs for internal connections “suggests that once all schools and libraries have been upgraded, it will cost approximately $2.2 billion per year ($1.6 billion in E-Rate subsidies) to maintain these networks and upgrade them periodically to list latest standards. Funds for Learning also notes that school districts with more than 20% of their students eligible for the National School Lunch Program may not see even a dime of E-Rate funding for internal connections by 2020.
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.