E-Rate 2.0

The annual demand estimate for the E-Rate program was released last week, and there’s no surprise that once again the demand for E-Rate funding far outstrips the actual amount available. What’s new this year is that barring any rollover funds, there will be no funding for Priority 2 services.

For FY13, schools and libraries requested discounts totaling $4.986 billion. The requests for Priority 1 services, which include telecommunications and internet access, totaled $2.709 billion, while the request for Priority 2 services, which include internal connections, totaled $2.277 billion. The total amount of FY13 funding for the E-Rate program, however, will be approximately $2.4 billion. This discrepancy between demand and actual funding means that there will be no funds available for Priority 2 services after the funds are allocated for Priority 1 requests.

So, what does this mean? Members of the education community who track and rely on the E-Rate program have been bracing for this occurrence. At a time when school bandwidth needs continue to skyrocket, there will be no E-Rate funds for the critical internal connections (servers, cabling, data protection) that schools need to update and maintain their networks.

ISTE’s advocacy work is focusing on raising the funding cap for the E-Rate program. The E-Rate program has had phenomenal success connecting classrooms to the Internet since its creation in 1996. However, it’s time for the program to keep pace with the digital learning demands of 2013 and beyond.

A significant moment for our advocacy work in support of the E-Rate program happened at this month’s Washington Education Technology Policy Summit when Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel outlined her vision for an updated E-Rate program to meet the demands of today and tomorrow. She shared with the audience her vision of what she called “E-Rate 2.0.” This speech was a milestone for our advocacy work, as Commissioner Rosenworcel is one of five Commissioners who direct the work of the FCC. The FCC is “charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.” FCC Commissioners are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for five-year terms. The FCC has jurisdiction over the E-Rate program, and it is an action by the FCC, not Congress, that would raise the E-Rate funding cap.

It is important that the education community rally around Commissioner Rosenworcel’s efforts to raise the visibility and importance of school broadband connectivity. She recognizes that “without adequate capacity our students are going to fall short … we fail our students if we expect digital age learning to take place at near dial-up speeds.” I encourage you to read Commissioner Rosenworcel’s complete remarks (PDF), as they are right on target.

ISTE will continue to be at the forefront advocating for an increase for the E-Rate funding cap. ISTE collaborates with the education and library communities through the Education and Library Networks Coalition (EdLinc) to make a greater impact on E-Rate policy. Some of the members of the EdLinc Coalition include: the American Association of School Administrators, American Library Association, National School Boards Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Catholic Educational Association.

In addition to raising the E-Rate funding cap I’m interested in hearing your ideas about how to update the E-rate program to serve our students well into the future. Please contact me at hgoldmann@iste.org or share your thoughts on this blog.

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