I hear from IT Directors and CIOs that they would like the option of purchasing network monitoring and management solutions with E-rate funds, and many applicants are confused why filtering is mandated through CIPA, yet filtering is not an eligible product. Former FCC Chairman Genachowski started a pilot program in order to review if off-premise wireless device connectivity should be a part of the E-rate program and MiCTA recently filed an exparte in support of mobile learning, but this service has not been added to the eligible services list either.
The number one argument against the expansion is that under the current regulatory framework the demand for E-rate funds has doubled what the E-rate can currently support. I agree 100% with that analysis. It is also becoming a reality that the E-rate program, absent regulatory reform, will only become a Priority One program, and even the Priority One funds will start to see a proration as the demand for telecommunications and Internet access services continues to skyrocket each year.
My colleagues at Funds For Learning® have thought about this issue and have come up with a proposal. With these proposed changes in action, not only can the eligible services list expand for new technologies that support connectivity to schools and libraries, but applicants have greater local control over what eligible services they procure. The plan is very simple and straightforward:
1) It calls for a budget for each applicant based on the number of students and has a mechanism to protect small and rural schools where the cost to purchase telecommunications services is more expensive than in urban settings;
2) It eliminates the priority system and is based instead on the eligible services list, meaning schools can purchase any eligible solutions they see fit based on their local needs and their E-rate budget for the year; and
3) Everything else about the E-rate program remains exactly the same and does not require additional levels of USAC bureaucracy.
It is important to note that the E-rate program has been and will always be about connectivity and providing the necessary bandwidth for schools and libraries, and it will not turn into an education technology block grant where schools can purchase computers or other technology that the E-rate program was not originally designed to support. However, technology changes rapidly and as innovation occurs the FCC can expand the eligible services list to include those necessary solutions.
Each school’s decision to purchase products and services from the eligible services list will not affect how much E-rate support that other schools receive. Unfortunately, the current system of unlimited requests has caused the E-rate program to be inequitable, and applicants’ purchasing decisions directly impact what other applicants can purchase in any given year. The simplicity of Funds For Learning’s proposal is that, because each applicant will have a budget, their purchasing decisions will not impact other applicants.
Funds For Learning® will be holding a one hour seminar on Wednesday, June 5, 2pm ET and Wednesday, June 19th, 2pm ET in order to have further discussions with E-rate stakeholders about our plan.
If you are interested in attending, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.