A $5 billion bounty: How to use eRate support for Wi-Fi

Some Wi-Fi manufacturers sell wireless access points that can be upgraded easily by switching out the antennas or upgrading the software that controls the system. While this would simplify upgrades within the five-year life cycle of equipment, K-12 technology leaders should allow for these upgrade costs when planning their needs.

A ‘good first step’

When estimating schools’ Wi-Fi needs, the FCC used figures submitted by CoSN and EducationSuperHighway, among other organizations.

Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive, thinks the FCC’s per-student cap should be sufficient to meet most districts’ needs. He called the new eRate rules “a good first step” in transforming the program into a vehicle to support broadband access in the nation’s classrooms.

John Harrington, chief executive officer of the eRate consulting firm Funds For Learning, agreed. He said the $150-per-student funding cap might not give schools everything they need, but “it will certainly go a long way” toward addressing their Wi-Fi needs.

Harrington thinks schools would have been better served by a “single-cap system” that did not remove support for voice services, but instead placed a per-student cap on the entire program and gave school leaders the flexibility to use the funding as they wanted. Still, the revised eRate program is “much better than what we had three months ago,” he said.

Both Krueger and Harrington noted there is still uncertainty about years three and beyond of the FCC’s plan.

“We’re pleased that the FCC has a plan to fund [Wi-Fi connections] for the next two years,” Krueger said. “Now, they need to come up with a long-term plan.” This plan, he added, needs to involve raising the annual funding cap on the eRate as a whole.

The FCC is seeking further comments on this very subject, as well as other steps it can take to improve the program. Initial comments are due Sept. 15, and reply comments are due Sept. 30. All comments should refer to filing “WC Docket No. 13-184,” and schools can file comments electronically here: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/.

Part two of this series will look at how the new eRate rules could foster the growth of a new market segment: managed Wi-Fi. Part three will examine the impact that ending eRate support for voice services will have on schools. Watch www.eschoolnews.com every Tuesday this month for more information.

Dennis Pierce

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