On April 16, 2013, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the appointment of Michael Steffan to be the Commission’s first Director of Digital Learning. This newly created position will lead the FCC’s work “within the agency and across government, public, and private partners to modernize broadband infrastructure in U.S schools and libraries….” The mission is to continue to “expand access to the opportunities of digital technologies for America’s teachers, students, and parents.”
I applaud Steffan’s appointment and hope he will begin his efforts by immediately working with the FCC on further E-rate reform. The regulatory changes in 2010 were a good first step, but we are at a critical place where the demand for Priority One services alone exceeds the $2.38 billion FY 2013 funding cap by almost $320 million.
There are several important reasons why E-rate reform needs to happen, and happen soon. Many school districts do not have the infrastructure needed to implement Common Core standards by 2014, and E-rate is an essential component for school districts to have the necessary bandwidth for this nationwide initiative. More and more school districts would also like to implement Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) programs, but do not have the broadband infrastructure to support a BYOD environment. Chairman Genachowski and Education Secretary Duncan would like every student to have digital textbooks in the next few years, but schools will not be able to support the increased bandwidth needed for their stated goals without more regulatory changes to the E-rate program.
Funds For Learning has prepared a proposal to address schools’ need to be able to afford broadband infrastructure for 21st century learning while simultaneously providing more flexibility to applicants. The FCC clearly understands the need for Priority Two services, as they stated in the National Broadband Plan that they “should provide E-rate support for internal connections to more schools and libraries.” To date, however, the FCC has not released new rules to address this issue. But by championing additional E-rate reform, the newly appointed Digital Learning Director can have a significant impact on student achievement for years to come.