An online petition asks the FCC to increase the availability of eRate funds.

The federal eRate program, which helps schools and libraries connect to the internet, should receive more funding so that more schools and libraries can serve not only students, but community members as well, eRate compliance firm Funds For Learning wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In an open letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning, requests that the commission increase the available funding in the eRate program.

In the letter, Harrington explains that schools and libraries, especially those in the nation’s poorer communities, rely on the eRate program as “the financial backbone that enables them to keep their sophisticated and expensive telecommunications networks up and running.”

“The eRate program has been hugely successful,” said Harrington. “However, with demand outpacing the available funding, it is time to consider how much more funding and regulatory support the commission should allocate to the eRate program, as the increase in funding, or lack thereof, will determine whether any schools or libraries get left behind.”

“Classrooms across the nation are benefiting from technologies supported by eRate funds,” said Cathy Cruzan, president of Funds For Learning. “We made this letter available for public support because the eRate program not only affects schools and libraries, but everyone in the community. Education is crucial to improving students and their communities and when they benefit, the nation benefits.”

Since the program began in 1998, demand for eRate funds has increased by 108 percent, from $2.36 billion in 1998 to $4.65 billion in 2011. However, despite the increase in demand, the available funding has remained nearly the same. From 1998 to 2009, the available eRate funds were capped at $2.25 billion per year. The cap was indexed to inflation starting in 2010, resulting in $2.27 and $2.29 billion in available funds for 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“What was barely adequate funding 14 years ago is not nearly sufficient now, and tomorrow it will merely be a drop in the bucket,” said Harrington. “That is why the eRate program desperately needs an infusion of new funds today.”

According to Harrington, the timing for the request could not be better. He explained that the newly FCC-designed Connect America Fund “needs a fully funded eRate program to succeed.”