In further analyzing the FY 2013 funding requests, I discovered that the top 100 applicants requested $870.4 million in Priority One services alone! No wonder the likelihood of any applicant ultimately receiving any of the critical Priority Two dollars is pretty slim at best. The SLD estimated that there was a 10.8% increase in Priority One requests from FY 2012 and this trend is likely to continue over the next several funding years. This is the first year that without the FCC rolling over unused funds from previous years there wouldn’t even be enough funds available to cover the $2.7 billion in Priority One requests. Nearly 26,000 schools and libraries participated in the E-rate program this year, and there is a decent chance that not one of those applicants will receive any internal connections or basic maintenance support they desperately need.
Funds For Learning has a simple proposal to make the available E-rate dollars go further, to make the funding more equitable and to provide for more flexibility to allow applicants to set their own local priorities on what E-rate goods and services they will procure each year.
I also support FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel’s ideas about increasing E-rate funding, establishing capacity goals, and having better data collection to assess projected broadband needs and to have multiyear applications as part of the process.
Most stakeholders agree that it is past time for the E-rate program to reboot and make changes to the regulatory structure to address today’s current funding shortfall. I hope the FCC will release proposed new rules for stakeholders to comment on in order to get this process formally started. While it is unlikely that applicants will receive any Priority Two projects funded for FY 2013, it is not too late for the FCC to act in time for next year.