The FCC hosted several education-related panels to discuss potential impacts of increased broadband access on education and potential new applications for the increased bandwidth. The American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 or known as the “Stimulus Bill” that was signed into law earlier this year authorized the FCC to create a National Broadband Plan which will be released sometime in 2010.
Among the panels was a group to discuss the impacts of and to the E-rate program. In general, the education industry experts and educators on the panels all supported the E-rate program and provided testimonials to the benefits. Speaking on the panel specifically tied to the E-rate program were:
- Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer of the Calcasieu Parish School System, Lake Charles, Louisiana
- Tom Greaves, Chairman, The Greaves Group
- Carrie Lowe, Director, Program on Networks for the Office of Information Technology Policy, American Library Association
- Chris Lehmann, Principal, Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
While the E-rate panel all testified how they have made effective use of their E-rate funding, the panel stressed the need for policymakers to increase the funding cap from $2.25 billion to possibly $4 to $6 billion. The cap has not increased in the decade since the program’s inception and the demand for E-rate funding annually exceeds the amount that the E-rate program can provide to schools and libraries.
Two main themes found throughout the call for an increase in the funding cap were the continued increase in E-rate program funding requests and the need to innovate education with the use of technology.
No radical changes to the scope of the E-rate program—such as the kinds of services which are eligible for discounts, or modifications to the established E-rate discount matrix—were generally advocated by the panelists.
In Funds For Learning’s Second Annual E-rate Survey that was released this summer, FFL found that the “…the majority of survey respondents also feel that their organization has more classrooms connected to the Internet than they would if the E-rate program had not existed. In last year’s survey, 59% of applicants responded favorably to this item, this year the favorable responses swelled to 71%. The ongoing need for E-rate funding is evident in the opinions of applicants. More than half of applicants believe that their organization would not be able to maintain their current level of Internet connectivity bandwidth to classrooms without E-rate funding…”
Further information about the FCC Broadband National Plan can be viewed by going to the FCC website at http://www.fcc.gov/national-broadband-plan.
The Second Annual Funds For Learning Survey Results can be found here.