For Daily, measuring the e-Rate’s success based on how many classrooms are connected to the internet is the wrong way to look at things.

“The real question is, have we provided enough bandwidth for classrooms to be able to actually use the internet? … For any school in America to have nothing more than a T-1 line to serve its entire student body should be considered a national embarrassment.”

Daily says the other failure of the e-Rate is that it doesn’t do anything to bring down the cost of bandwidth. “Instead, e-Rate is designed to subsidize access to whatever infrastructure is currently available on whatever terms are currently offered,” he wrote on his blog. “That means you’ve got some schools paying more for a T-1 than others are paying to get 100Mbps over fiber. The biggest reason for this is that e-Rate as it’s currently set up can only be used to reimburse for the cost of service, not the cost of deploying new infrastructure. And yet, nothing in Markey’s e-Rate 2.0 proposal does anything to address these two fundamental flaws with e-Rate 1.0.”

Daily is referring to the fact that, under the program’s current setup, too few schools receive funding for internal connections—the wiring, routers, switches, and file servers necessary to bring internet access into buildings and classrooms. Internal connections are classified as “Priority 2” services under the e-Rate, while telecommunications services and monthly internet access fees are considered “Priority 1” services. But there is so little money left after funding has been committed for Priority 1 services that discounts on Priority 2 services don’t reach very far, leaving many schools unable to use the e-Rate to subsidize the cost of installing new network infrastructure.

Daily concludes that “before we worry about expanding e-Rate into new areas, we need to readdress what isn’t working at the core of the program; because without access to sufficient bandwidth at reasonable prices, nothing that we want to see with regards to broadband-enabled education will ever come to pass.”

Yet, others say Markey’s bill takes steps in the right direction.

“We applaud Representatives Markey, Capps, and Matsui for their introduction of the e-Rate 2.0 Act in support of bolstering federal support of broadband for educational purposes,” said Doug Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, in a statement to eSchool News. “Since schools and libraries first began to receive telecommunications discounts in 1998, the e-Rate has been instrumental in increasing educational opportunities for all students, especially those from low-income and underserved communities. The move by Congress to reassess the program and strengthen it is most welcome. We look forward to the dialogue” that the bill will start.

Links:

H.R. 4619: e-Rate 2.0 Act of 2010

Funds for Learning

Geoff Daily’s blog post

SETDA