In 2014, the FCC assumed that telephone service needed to be removed from the E-rate program to make way for the funding of internal connections. As previously noted, this assumption was wrong. There was no need to “horse trade” for internal connections. There is ample funding to support broadband connections, internal connections, AND telephone service.
 
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The annual E-rate funding cap is about $4 billion. Current demand (when adjusted for gross errors in applications), is just short of $3 billion. That leaves about $1 billion in “wiggle room” for voice services.
The count of applicants participating in the E-rate program has declined in direct proportion to the reduction of support for voice services. Up until 2017, telephone service was the most frequently requested E-rate discount. Now, it is nearly gone, along with thousands of applicants, a fact even the FCC quietly acknowledged this week.
It strikes me as odd that the loss of thousands of applicants – thousands of applicants who now have reduced communications – seems acceptable, particularly when the whole reason they are gone we now know was a false assumption. Here are a few questions on my mind:
  • School and library budgets have absorbed more than $500,000,000 in support that was previously provided by the E-rate program. How has this impacted the mission of these organizations?
     
  • School and library buildings still use telephone service, probably for the same reasons that the FCC still has telephone service at its offices. Has the loss of telephone support impacted any critical functions?
     
  • How have classroom communications been impacted? How has the loss of cellular devices in classrooms impacted teacher communications?
     
  • Has carrying the full burden of telephone costs reduced the “Category 2” buying power of individual applicants?
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Demand for E-rate funding is currently at its lowest level since 1999. Funding is at its highest level. Restoring discounts for telephone service would not place an undue burden on the fund. Schools and libraries could desperately use the support, and it is within the FCC’s power (and budget) to help. Will anyone help? Who will be the voice for the applicants who no longer have it?