FCC Seeks Comment on Potential Changes to E-rate Program
As part of the FCC's move to develop a national broadband plan, the Commission is seeking comments from stakeholders and the public about how broadband plays a role in education and how suggested changes to the E-rate program may affect broadband deployment in schools, libraries, and within communities across the country.
In addition to questions related to the E-rate program, the request for comments poses questions on a wide range of education-related topics to help facilitate comments and ideas.
E-rate Spurring Community Adoption of Broadband
One question posed by the commission is whether making modifications to the E-rate program to more effectively meet the needs of applicants can stimulate adoption of broadband throughout communities. The Commission sites a report from Portugal in which researchers found that increased broadband usage in schools correlated to a greater adoption of broadband within the community.
The Commission also seeks comments about how the inclusion of additional "eligible user" groups would impact the adoption of broadband within a community. Specifically, the Commission asks, "What would the impact be of modifying the statute to permit colleges, community colleges, pre-kindergarten, Headstart, or other entities to participate in the E-rate program?"
Also included is a request for comments about expanding the scope of products and services which are eligible for E-rate discounts to include such things as end user equipment (computers) and training. If the E-rate program were to fund these, the Commission would like to know how projected demand on the program would be affected.
E-rate Disbursements and Discounts
The Commission is also seeking comment on an array of potential changes to how E-rate discounts are calculated and disbursed. Included are requests for comments about the following types of changes:
- creating a new priority level for applicants that do not currently have broadband to help them "catch up" to others,
- increasing E-rate discounts for applicants to implement certain levels of connectivity,
- modifying the rules related to Internal Connections to distribute funding to schools that have not received Internal Connections funding for several years, and
- other modifications that could be implemented to maximize the deployment of broadband.
In a section dedicated to E-rate funding, the commission is seeking comments related to the current $2.35 billion funding cap, and how it affects broadband deployment. Within the questions posed by the commission are ideas about how the program could be modified to spur broadband deployment, including:
- What are the financial or programmatic implications of increasing the cap to fund additional services not currently covered by E-rate?
- Would eliminating some of the services currently eligible and expanding eligibility to other services result in greater levels of broadband connectivity?
- Are there other specific ways the Commission could better leverage the benefits of E-rate funding through coordination with other federal, state, local or non-profit programs that seek to advance broadband deployment?
The Commission is seeking comments on these topics and many more related to the E-rate program. Comments are due by November 20, 2009 and reply comments are due December 11, 2009.