FYI: E-rate Modernization

“Students who don’t have Internet and a computer at home end up going to the library, which is overcrowded and understaffed, and don’t have the time to wait for a computer so they pick out their own book which is not necessarily tailored to their literacy level like the online program. I want to show the parents that they can have this at home.” – Sulay Tapia, PS330Q Parent Coordinator The Internet has transformed every aspect of society, including the public education system. Teachers now need high-speed Internet in classrooms, and students need access to the Internet to complete homework assignments, be in contact with teachers, research, and more. And yet, so many schools lag behind. The government estimates that fewer than 30 percent of K-12 schools have access to adequate broadband.

President Obama’s ConnectED initiative is one recognition of the problem that plagues our education system. The recent E-rate modernization is another.

The E-rate program (the more common name for the schools and libraries universal service support program) is designed to help schools and libraries get Internet access and other telecommunications services at discounted rates. The program was authorized by the 1996 Telecommunications Act. So why modernize now?

The FCC found increased demand for the E-rate funding. Applicants were demanding double the amount the FCC had to offer. The FCC also realized it was time to focus on issues that were more pertinent today, such as high-capacity broadband to and within schools and libraries. The ConnectED initiative has also raised awareness of the important role access can play in a student's education.

In response, on July 11, 2014, the FCC announced its E-rate modernization plan with three primary goals: (1) ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband sufficient to support digital learning in schools and robust connectivity for all libraries, (2) maximizing cost-effectiveness, and (3) streamlining the E-rate application process.

Measures have included focusing support on broadband services, as well as funding broadband within schools and libraries, not just to them. The FCC has also worked to increase pricing transparency and to simplify the application, all in an effort to make funding more easily available to those who need it.

These modernization efforts have led to numerous improvements in school resources across the nation, making it easier for schools and libraries to provide the high-speed Internet their patrons need. But school access is only part of the solution for providing students with the tools they need to thrive in the digital age. Teachers routinely assign homework that requires use of the Internet. And yet, only 18 percent of teachers report all students having the digital tools they need at home. Students without Internet access at home are clearly disadvantaged.

Home access has become a necessity for students as well as parents to continue learning outside the classroom. Together, E-rate modernization in schools and affordable home access options are a good step toward ensuring that students are given every opportunity to reach their full potential.