Experts: eRate changes certain, but details unknown

“The last time such a pivotal moment in ed-tech policy occurred was 1996, when a bipartisan coalition of senators—led by Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine—created the eRate program,” wrote Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, in a September eSchool News column. “Back then, the goal—now largely achieved—was to ensure that every classroom had a basic connection to the internet. Now, 17 years and more than $30 billion in eRate commitments later, the stars seem to be aligning for big changes to the eRate.”

“Obviously, the potential of the ConnectED initiative is very significant,” said Brian Stephens, a senior technology and regulatory analyst with eRate compliance firm Funds For Learning. “We want to get the fastest internet connections as possible and get the best resources to teachers and students—understanding what it will take to get us there is the tough part.”

Speaking during an edWeb webinar that offered an update on the eRate’s current status, Stephens said that the program in its current form may not be structured in the way it needs to be to get the nation’s schools and libraries connected.

This past program year, schools requested approximately $5 billion in eRate funding—nearly twice the program’s capacity. More than 52 million students in 113,000 individual school buildings rely on the eRate for internet connectivity.

Without new regulations, 47 percent of schools will have no eRate support in 2014, and by 2015, there will be no support for 71 percent of schools, according to FFL estimates.

“This is the most comprehensive look at that program we’ve had since its inception in 1998,” Stephens said.

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Laura Ascione

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