News

eRate changes spur debate

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor, @eSN_Laura
September 23rd, 2013

Stakeholders weigh in on eRate program’s future

e-rate-broadbandHundreds of eRate stakeholders made final efforts to show how critical high-speed broadband connections are for teaching and learning before a Sept. 16 deadline to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC had asked for feedback on a variety of proposals to improve the eRate, so the $2.3 billion-a-year federal school wiring program can support President Obama’s plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband service within five years. Currently, the eRate meets only a small fraction of the network infrastructure needs of K-12 schools nationwide.

Citing 2013 data from its national Speak Up survey on ed-tech use, the nonprofit group Project Tomorrow outlined the need for action in its comments to the FCC: “… As demand increases for the use of more digital tools and content in the classroom, the vast majority of districts are facing a serious bandwidth capacity problem. Only 15 percent of school districts say that they have enough bandwidth capacity to support their instructional needs; and 71 percent of districts either have current problems with bandwidth issues or are concerned about the impact of implementing more digital content on their capacity.”

Elliot Soloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, and Cathleen Norris, Regents Professor in the University of North Texas’ Department of Learning Technologies, argued that President Obama’s ConnectED initiative “is a game-changing opportunity to bring America’s schools into the 21st century.” But they also urged the FCC “to go one step further: allow eRate funds to be used to support off-campus as well as on-campus internet access.”

Many Americans are limited by their socio-economic status and do not have home broadband access. But the FCC can “change the rule so that wireless internet access, available to the students while they are on-campus at school, is also available while the children are off-campus, in their apartments and homes,” Soloway and Norris commented.

(Next page: More stakeholder comments)