Is dark fiber in your district’s future?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began allowing E-rate applicants to apply for discounts for dark fiber and self-provisioned fiber. These “smart fiber” options are seen as a way to give institutions more tools for meeting connectivity demands.

Take our quick poll on dark fiber here.

Key points:…Read More

Dark fiber could be the future of school networking

Dark fiber is helping some districts scale broadband for tomorrow, not today. Is it the future of networking?

After taking steps to update and increase funding for the E-rate program in 2014, this year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began allowing applicants to apply for discounts for dark fiber and self-provisioned fiber.

Seen as a way to give institutions more tools for meeting connectivity demands, these “smart fiber” options are already being used by schools nationwide. With the expanded E-rate opportunities, the number of K-12 districts exploring their dark/self-provisioned options could grow significantly over the next few years.

What is dark fiber?

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) does a good job of breaking down traditional and self-provisioned options in a PDF on its website. Basically, self-provisioned options let schools build new fiber networks without using existing fiber optic cables. Schools then own those networks and, as such, are responsible for the related operations and management costs.…Read More

FCC approves $9 broadband subsidy for low-income households

Expansion of the Lifeline program will affect more than 13 million Americans

A recently-approved expansion of an FCC program will grant millions of low-income households a discount on internet access in an effort to help close what is becoming known as the digital divide — the lack of reliable high-speed internet access for lower income families.

FCC commissioners voted on the proposed expansion 3 to 2 along party lines, as expected. Eligible households (those at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level) will now be able to apply the $9.25 subsidy to broadband, wireless, or a bundled voice and internet package. Previously, the program, called Lifeline, was only applicable to phone service.

According to the FCC, nearly all households with annual incomes of more than $150,000 currently have high-speed internet; by contrast, nearly half of those with incomes less than $25,000 claim the same.…Read More

7 things you need to know now about E-rate changes

Big E-rate changes mean schools must chart a new path

A bigger annual cap isn’t the only recent change to the E-rate program. New forms, new data, the potential for infrastructure discounts, and (even more) new funding are all colliding to create one of the most challenging application periods in memory. We asked E-rate guru John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, for his application-time thoughts and advice.

There is a lot of funding available

“This year this is a record amount of money available. The FCC increased the funding cap and they’ve been very diligent about going back and accounting for underutilized discounts. When schools apply for their discounts, they have to provide an estimate, and usually they err on the high side because you can’t go back later. It’s like if I told you, ‘Hey, you can get a discount on your phone bill, but you need to estimate it now.’ You might go back and add a few points.

“There’s often little percentage points that were underutilized, because they just weren’t needed. Those dollars accumulate over time, and, this past December, resulted in a rollover of a few billion dollars. Between the increase and the leftover dollars, they have over $5 billion to commit for projects.”…Read More

FCC’s plan to reclassify internet has big K-12 impact

FCC commissioner seeks to protect the open internet, opening new broadband access opportunities for K-12

fcc-internetFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing clear, sustainable, enforceable rules to preserve and protect the open Internet as a place for innovation and free expression. According to an FCC Fact Sheet the common-sense proposal would replace, strengthen, and supplement FCC rules struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit more than one year ago.

“An open Internet allows consumers to access the legal content and applications that they choose online, without interference from their broadband network provider,” the fact sheet states. “It fosters innovation and competition by ensuring that new products and services developed by entrepreneurs aren’t blocked or throttled by Internet service providers putting their own profits above the public interest. An open Internet allows free expression to blossom without fear of an Internet provider acting as a gatekeeper. And it gives innovators predictable rules of the road to deliver new products and services online.”

Evan Marwell, CEO of San Francisco-based EducationSuperHighway, says Chairman Wheeler’s proposals to protect the open internet include one key provision that will be very helpful to any school district or library that is working to bring fiber to their buildings. That is, by “ensuring fair access to poles and conduits under section 224,” the proposed rules will make it much simpler and more cost effective for school districts to obtain the rights of way they will need for fiber construction.…Read More

Wi-Fi in schools: Security vs. accessibility

Wi-Fi in schools can enhance student learning, but addressing the security risks is a good learning opportunity for administrators as well

wi-fiWi-Fi has been adopted with great enthusiasm by schools around the country; the opportunities it presents for learning are vast.

So, recent news that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will spend $2 billion to boost wireless internet connectivity in U.S. schools and libraries during the next two years is a great step forward. While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has called it a “watershed moment” to give wireless access to an estimated 10 million students, privacy experts are raising a collective eyebrow.

One of the possible downfalls to having students on Wi-Fi networks at school is the clear security risk: The network could be hacked, or a student could bring a virus from home onto the school’s wireless network. The very benefit of Wi-Fi in schools—easy, open access—is also the biggest threat. If it’s easy for the students to access, but it’s just as easy for hackers, that means everything on a school’s Wi-Fi network is vulnerable.…Read More

eRate changes aim to cut costs, boost efficiency

New rules encourage greater eRate transparency, volume purchasing

erate-savings
Greater transparency wasn’t the only rule change intended to control costs.

[Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final article in a series examining the new eRate rules and how they will affect schools.]

Starting next year, eRate applicants will be able to see how much other schools are paying for similar kinds of services, under one of many changes designed to keep costs down and simplify the nation’s school wiring program.

This greater transparency into eRate contracts could lead to better pricing on telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connectivity for U.S. schools and libraries.…Read More

New discount method could help—or hurt—eRate applicants

School districts must use a single discount percentage for all of their schools, leading to more—or less—funding for some

calculating-discount-rate
The changes have important implications for schools.

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles examining the new eRate rules and how they will affect schools.]

The FCC’s new eRate rules include important changes in how school districts must calculate their discount percentage. Some districts stand to benefit from these changes, while others could see their eRate funding reduced.

In this report, you’ll learn what these changes are—and how they’ll affect your schools.…Read More

How to avoid eRate rule violations

The FCC is investing millions of dollars to remove eRate waste, fraud, and abuse. Here’s how to make sure you’re not caught in its net

eRate-violationsThis summer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created a Universal Service Fund (USF) Strike Force, which is tasked with combating waste, fraud, and abuse in various USF programs, including the eRate.

This newly created Strike Force, which is part of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, will almost certainly expend considerable resources ensuring that the procurement practices of schools receiving eRate funding comply with FCC rules.

To avoid a future encounter with the Strike Force, schools should re-evaluate their internal compliance programs—and here’s how.…Read More

eRate changes prompt new voice options for schools

New rules would eliminate eRate discounts on voice-related services within the next five years

voice-service
The phase-out will happen more quickly for some schools than others.

[Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles examining the new eRate rules and how they will affect schools.]

If the Federal Communications Commission has its way, the eRate no longer will support voice services within the next five years, including plain old telephone service, toll-free service, and even voice over IP (VoIP).

This change could have a dramatic effect on school district budgets—and it likely will force school business and IT leaders to reexamine their options for voice-related services.…Read More