e-Rate gets facelift with wireless pilot, community access


Transceivers at either end of the fiber-optic lines activate the fiber, and simply switching out the transceivers for higher-speed versions will increase network speed and capacity.

When the e-Rate program first got off the ground, many schools used dial-up internet connections but have since transitioned to wireless connectivity and high-bandwidth applications, Harrington said.

“It just makes sense that the program has to catch up to meet where we are today,” he added. “The change that will allow schools to lease dark fiber is a big step forward, because if a school can lease dark fiber, what they have is a nearly unlimited bandwidth pipe. It opens the doors to more bandwidth.”

Other improvements designed to bring the e-Rate up to date include indexing the cap on e-Rate funding to inflation in a fiscally responsible manner; supporting connections to dormitories of schools that serve students facing unique challenges; strengthening protections against waste, fraud, and abuse; and streamlining the application process.

The American Library Association said the vote is “a significant first step toward truly simplifying and streamlining the e-Rate program, which is critical to libraries across the country.”

The FCC also voted to open up unused airwaves between television stations for wireless broadband networks that will be more powerful and can travel farther than today’s Wi-Fi hot spots.

The five-member FCC voted unanimously to allow the use of so-called “white spaces” between TV stations to deliver broadband connections that can function like Wi-Fi networks on steroids. The agency is calling the new technology “super Wi-Fi” and hopes to see devices with the new technology start to appear within a year.

Genachowski said white-spaces networks will serve as “a powerful platform for innovation,” driving billions in industry investment.

Leading technology companies, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Dell Inc., are eager to develop the market. They say television white spaces are ideally suited for broadband because they are able to penetrate walls, have plenty of capacity, and can travel several miles.

Just like the spectrum used by Wi-Fi, the white spaces will be available to all users free of charge, with no license required. The FCC hopes they will help ease strain on the nation’s increasingly crowded airwaves as more consumers go online using laptops and data-hungry smart phones.

Although the FCC first voted to allow the use of white spaces for broadband nearly two years ago, the plan ran into serious opposition from television broadcasters worried about interference with their over-the-air signals. Wireless microphone manufacturers and users—including churches, theaters, schools, karaoke bars, and all types of performers—raised similar concerns.

The FCC’s Sept. 23 vote mandates the creation of a database with a map of TV channels across the country, as well as big wireless microphone users, such as Broadway theaters and sports leagues. White-spaces networks and devices would be required to determine their own location and then consult the database to find vacant frequencies to use. The FCC is also setting aside at least two channels for minor users of wireless microphones.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, said the group will work with the FCC to develop the technical protections to safeguard television signals.

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