1. President Obama’s ConnectED initiative prompts the biggest review of the eRate since the program’s 1997 inception.
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In June, President Obama announced a new program to ensure that 99 percent of U.S. schools have access to reliable, high-speed broadband connections within the next five years.
“The average American school has about the same bandwidth as the average American home, even though obviously there are 200 times as many people at school as there are at home,” Obama said. “Only around 20 percent of our students have access to true high-speed internet in their classroom.”
To support the president’s goals, the Federal Communications Commission launched the largest review of the federal eRate program since the program’s mid-1990s inception. The review has the potential to revolutionize the program, currently funded at $2.3 billion per year, and transform how U.S. schools and libraries connect to the internet.
The key question behind the review was: How can officials update the eRate to make it a more effective vehicle for supporting broadband in the nation’s schools? During a public comment period, eRate stakeholders weighed in on a variety of proposals—from raising the annual funding cap to eliminating the current priority system that favors telecommunications services over internal connections.
“In 1998, schools reported spending $15 per student in annual telecommunications and internet expenses,” wrote John Harrington, CEO of eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning. “Today, that number is $50 per student and rising—an increase of 300 percent. Meanwhile, available eRate funding has increased a meager 6 percent. Further compounding matters, a small percentage of ‘big spender’ applicants want to consume the entire fund.”
Harrington’s solution to this problem? “All the FCC has to do is (1) use its existing authority to add more money to the eRate fund, and (2) protect and stretch those funds by placing a reasonable limit on the amount of eRate discounts that it will give to an applicant in a single funding year,” he wrote.
As school officials prepare to apply for the next cycle of eRate funding, uncertainty is the overriding theme. Despite a widely recognized need for change, it appeared as of press time that any adjustments to the eRate for the 2014 program year would be minor at best—with more widespread changes on tap for the 2015 program year.
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