E-rate survey

5 school and library applicants weigh in on E-rate

IT leaders say E-rate is critical to meeting demand for high-speed internet

A vast majority of E-rate applicants say the federal funding is vital to their internet connectivity, especially as demand for school wi-fi is surging, according to the latest annual E-rate applicant survey from Funds For Learning.

Eighty-eight percent of surveyed applicants say more students and library patrons are online with faster connections because of E-rate funding.

Roughly half of all networks (51 percent) will need upgrades within three years due to increasing demand for wi-fi, and 88 percent of schools say they prefer a simplified approach that gives them flexibility to decide which campuses receive wi-fi support, according to the survey.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to evaluate funding regulations for broadband internet in schools and libraries to consider how connectivity demands align with program utility and efficiency. The survey is intended to provide direct feedback to the FCC to demonstrate how the E-rate can best serve applicants.

“The responses we received show us just how important it is for the E-rate program to continue fulfilling its mission,” says John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning. “Rising demand for wi-fi access indicates that applicants will increasingly depend on reliable connections to provide high quality education in coming years.”

In addition to increasing internet speed, surveyed schools and libraries say they need reliable internet connectivity–74 percent want the FCC to allow support for backup internet connections, and only 13 percent say they can presently afford backup internet.

Sixty-one percent of applicants currently don’t have dual internet connections for load balancing or high availability internet, but would have it if E-rate rules would allow for it.

Most applicants (79 percent) say they believe the FCC should allow schools to share internet access off-campus if it is at no cost to E-rate.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (82 percent) say insufficient internet access in the homes of students or library patrons is a significant issue in the community.

Additional findings include:

  • The E-rate program is ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband internet (82 percent agree)
  • Schools and libraries have faster internet connections because of the program (80 percent)
  • More students and/or library patrons are connected to the internet because of the E-rate program (78 percent)
  • Schools and libraries can depend on E-rate funding each year (70 percent)
  • The program is maximizing the cost-effectiveness of spending (70 percent)
  • The competitive bidding process lowers school and/or library prices (51 percent)
  • The E-rate program is making the process fast, simple, and efficient (46 percent)

The survey also includes comments from survey participants, many of which point to the program’s vital place in school and library internet capability:

1. “We could not afford high speed internet at our library without E-rate. To pay the entire cost would force us to make serious cuts to other library services. That is a devil’s bargain. Which public do you choose to harm? 26,355 people used our internet workstations last year. This year, 7,901 have used them and another 2,518 have used our wireless network. It is a vital service for our community. We couldn’t do it without E-rate.” (Comment 305)

2. “In order to address the growing needs of rural school districts and rural areas like ours, community Internet access or Wi-Fi initiatives are going to be a critical component of a district technology plan, enabling students to utilize technology at home, through safe, CIPA-compliant internet access through the school district. We are the most connected organizations in rural areas, and it falls on us to lead the way in educating our students in a 21st century manner, which cannot be done when they do not have access to adequate Internet service at home. Access that we can, and morally should, provide. Therefore, E-rate regulations should be changed to allow for innovation in this space, allowing school districts to provide Internet connectivity to their students and community…” (Comment 109)

3. “The home internet access for students is vital. Google Classroom has roared across the USA and after-hours collaboration is essential.” (Comment 241)

4. “The E-rate program is vital for schools to connect their students to the internet which becomes more vital to learning every day. Unfortunately, the program itself is difficult to navigate and can feel unreliable due to late funding commitments and the fear of making a mistake on the application…” (Comment 234)

5. “Sharing our internet means we would have to buy additional equipment to allow access outside of our buildings. If E-rate were to pay for the additional equipment we could probably come to an arrangement with our city to put access in our poor and under-served neighborhoods.” (Comment 190)

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