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755 Days… Seriously?

755 days. That is the number of days that some people tell me it will take for schools to feel the impact of E-rate reform. Is that the best we can do? Really?

Across the country, school and library budgets are being squeezed like never before. Their budgets are far below where they should be – for fun, Google “education budget cuts” and see what you find. 90% of these institutions have Wi-Fi networks and Internet access that are falling behind; yet, as a society, we expect these institutions to somehow find the money necessary to bring the Internet, and along with it a digital revolution, into the lives of our students and library patrons.

Fortunately, we have the E-rate program. It is perfectly positioned to help bridge this gap. In fact, the opportunity for the E-rate program to have a positive impact in our communities has never been higher. It is for this reason that President Obama boldly set forth his ConnectED initiative last June and the FCC kicked-off an E-rate Modernization process last July. Underlying these actions was a sense of urgency, a recognition that time is of the essence when it comes to educating America’s students.

Which brings me back to the number 755.  I have noticed a disturbing trend recently. Just about everyone I talk with tells me that there is no way to reform the E-rate program prior to the 2015 funding year – as in July 1, 2015. That is 755 days after the President called for E-rate reform.

To put this in context, here are a few other dates to consider:

  • November 12, 2012 – Letter sent to FCC requesting that E-rate funding be increased
  • March 12, 2013 – Senator Rockefeller calls for E-rate 2.0 (here)
  • April 11, 2013  – FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel calls for E-rate 2.0 (here)
  • June 6, 2013 – President Obama calls on FCC to modernize E-rate program (here)
  • July 23, 2013 – FCC releases E-rate Modernization NPRM (here)

This process has already been moving forward for some time. From my perspective, not getting support into the hands of schools and libraries for the goods and services that they need until July 1, 2015 is ghastly. As we all know, the accelerating demand for Internet access and telecommunications in schools shows no sign of slowing down.

FY2013 would have been a perfect time to get the E-rate program updated. Sadly, that door seems to have closed. But I am unwilling to give up on FY2014. I do not think that 755 days is a fait accompli. Meaningful E-rate reform can be implemented before the end of this calendar year and prior to the opening of an E-rate filing window in January. This reform can improve the program for every applicant, and it will not take an act Congress. Nor will it require complex new regulations, a lowering of discount rates, or a remodeling of the Eligible Services List. You can read more about the plan here.

755 days represents two graduating classes. It is too long to wait. The schools and libraries that benefit from the E-rate program do not have the luxury of waiting 755 days to get connected to the Internet. Why should we? Please join me in calling for E-rate reform this calendar year.

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