This week Congressman Markey (D-MA) introduced the “E-rate 2.0 Act” which would expand the eligible beneficiaries of program dollars. Congressman Markey was an original author of the E-rate program in 1996 and continues to be a prominent supporter. As he introduced the bill he stated, “…over the past 14 years, the E-rate program has helped schools around the country connect to the Internet and other telecommunications services, enabling students to access a vast universe of educational information, communicate with other students around the world, and capitalize on opportunities that otherwise would be out of reach….”
The bill would direct the FCC to implement three pilot programs:
- The first pilot program narrows the digital divide through the distribution of vouchers to enable low-income students to purchase residential broadband service.
- The second utilizes a competitive grant program to extend funding for broadband equipment and services to selected community colleges and head start facilities that best demonstrate need and incorporation of broadband use in their educational mission
- The third enables certain E-Rate applicants serving particularly low-income students to apply for significantly discounted services and technologies for the use of e-books
The bill further calls for application reform, such as:
- Decreasing funding request application frequency from once per year to once every three years for Priority One services;
- Web-based communications with applicants; and
- Online applications and a general reduction in paper-based communications
- The bill also would provide for an inflation adjustment to the current $2.25 billion cap on the E-Rate program, so funding would increase with inflation.
The FCC has the authority to increase the E-rate funding cap without asking for Congressional approval and are already considering ways to streamline the application process, however, the expansion of the program participants would have to be enacted by Congress in order for the FCC to act.
Funds For Learning will continue to inform stakeholders as the FCC or Congress move to enact E-rate reform.
The proposed bill can be viewed here.