Along many other stakeholders, Funds For Learning attended the FCC meeting held Tuesday today unveiling the National Broadband Plan. The FCC made a number of recommendations regarding how the E-rate program can be modified to further the goals of broadband deployment and ensure the long-term success of the program. As Commissioner McDowell noted, these are recommendations that will be discussed in great detail through the FCC’s rulemaking process and Congressional action. And not every recommendation will eventually become reality.
I think that the message for schools and libraries to take away from today’s announcement is to be prepared for possible changes to how E-rate funding is requested and what it supports. But, these changes won’t come overnight. Months, and probably years, will pass before some of the recommended changes are made to the E-rate process.
One immediate change that is presently under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is to allow communities to use E-rate funded resources during ‘off-hours’ at schools. This is something that Funds For Learning and many other stakeholders have long noted as a disparity between schools and libraries when it comes to community use of Internet access.
Another potential short-term change is to raise the E-rate funding cap to adjust it for inflation. This is something that the FCC may act upon without Congressional intervention. As the plan states, the E-rate cap of $2.25 billion per year hasn’t been adjusted since the inception of the E-rate program. This means that schools have less buying power today, in terms of E-rate dollars, than they did in 1998.