Proposal would bring nation’s classrooms into digital age with federal E-rate funding boost

E-rate-internetThe federal E-rate program could see a $1.5 billion increase if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approves a proposal set forth by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Nov. 17.

The increase would come as a result of an increase in fees in consumers’ monthly phone bills. According to a program fact sheet, individuals would see an increase of roughly 16 cents per month, or $1.90 a year.

Under the proposal, the annual E-rate program cap would increase from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion.

Today, more than 40 million students do not have high-speed broadband access in their classrooms.

Sixty-eight percent of all school districts said not a single school in their district can meet high-speed internet connectivity goals today. That number jumps to 73 percent for rural districts, which have an even more difficult time accessing fiber networks (41 percent versus 31 percent of urban and suburban public schools).

“While the connected home is commonplace, the connected classroom and library is not,” Wheeler said in a press call to announce the plan.

(Next page: Details about the proposed E-rate increase)

Commissioner Ajit Pai issued a statement opposing Wheeler’s plan, saying that “instead of imposing a greater burden on families struggling to make ends meet in this lackluster economy, the commission should pursue fiscally responsible reforms.”

The proposal is essential to help students build critical 21st-century skills that will carry them through college and into the workforce, said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, during a call to discuss the FCC’s proposal and a new report revealing inequities in high-speed internet access among low-income, minority, and rural schools.

Stakeholders rallied around the FCC’s ramped-up efforts, noting that the E-rate has needed a face-lift for some time if U.S. students are to be able to compete with their global peers:

“The proposal is a meaningful, critical commitment and long-term investment in America’s students and educators. By promoting digital equity and strengthening the nation’s education broadband infrastructure, the objectives identified expand the digital capacity in our schools and directly pay dividends for decades,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. “Chairman Wheeler deserves immense credit for his continued leadership on this endeavor, and we support immediate action.”

“Connecting schools and libraries with high-speed internet access and Wi-Fi is critical to our education system. Students across the country need high-capacity broadband access to compete and learn in an increasingly digital and global economy,” said LEAD Commissioner and Co-Founder of TPG Capital Jim Coulter.

“Chairman Wheeler’s proposal is a big win for America’s kids. The much-needed E-Rate funding would help connect all our schoolchildren to high-speed internet and updated technology, and close the gaps in access for rural students, low-income students, and students of color,” said James P. Steyer, LEAD Commissioner and Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “Bringing high-speed internet to our schools and libraries is not only an investment in our students–it’s an investment in our economy and our national competitiveness.”

“ALA applauds Chairman Wheeler for his strong leadership throughout the modernization proceeding in identifying a clear path to closing the broadband gap for libraries and schools and ensuring a sustainable E-rate program. The critical increase in permanent funding that the chairman described during today’s press call will help ensure that libraries can maintain the broadband upgrades we know the vast majority of our libraries are anxious to make. Moreover, the program changes that were referenced today—on top of those the commission adopted in July—coupled with more funding is without a doubt a win-win for libraries and most importantly for the people in the communities they serve,” said American Library Association President Courtney Young.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura