Other changes to the eRate enacted by the FCC include:

  • Allowing for multiple-year applications for services under a multi-year contract.
  • Eliminating the requirements for technology plans.
  • Allowing direct reimbursement of funds to applicants.
  • Extending the period that schools must retain eRate-related documents to 10 years.
  • Relaxing the bidding requirements for some smaller applications.
  • Requiring applicants to file electronic forms.
  • Prioritizing the review of consortia applications.

In addition, the FCC opened a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on the long-term funding needed to meet schools’ broadband needs.

The FCC voted 3-2 to adopt these changes, with the three Democrats on the panel approving them and the two Republicans opposing. Joining Wheeler in supporting the plan were commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel (who concurred in part). Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissented.

In a statement, Pai said he was disappointed the FCC’s action did little to reduce the complexity of the eRate application process or address the “inequitable funding approach that gives many large, urban districts 90-percent discounts without limit.” He said the agency’s plan would only “exacerbate” the urban-rural eRate gap.

“Students and teachers … were promised eRate modernization.” Pai said. “They deserve a student-centered eRate program. And what does the FCC give them? The status quo.”

Rosenworcel said she was disappointed the FCC did not raise the annual funding cap in its July 11 decision. “I would have preferred to fix this [issue] here and now, instead of leaving it for a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” she wrote. “So on this aspect of today’s decision, I concur.”

Education groups expressed cautious optimism about the FCC ruling, saying it was a good first step toward modernizing the eRate.

“Today’s vote by the FCC represents an important early victory for students and educators [who] lack broadband and Wi-Fi access in their classrooms,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, in a statement.

“CoSN’s 2013 eRate and broadband survey revealed a massive Wi-Fi gap in many classrooms, so we’re very pleased the FCC dedicated meaningful funding for internal connections, while also maintaining a focus on broadband connections to the school door.

“CoSN also commends the FCC for approving a further notice focused on evaluating the program’s long-term funding needs. School districts cannot meet today’s Wi-Fi and broadband technology needs on a 1997 budget—and that will mean our nation must eventually invest more for this critical need.”

Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis.

Dennis Pierce

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