The FCC announced that they will increase E-rate support for broadband networks by $2 billion over the next two years. The FCC stated that “funding for new investments in high-speed Internet will come from reprioritizing existing E-rate funds to focus on high-capacity Internet connectivity, increasing efficiency, and modernizing management of the E-rate program…”
FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler, speaking at Digital Learning Day on February 5, 2014, mentioned that the Commission will “…move forward with fundamental structural and administrative changes by issuing an Order later this spring, the results of which would go into effect in 2015.” In his speech, Mr. Wheeler emphasized the importance of connected learning in today’s society. He discussed the unique role of the E-rate funding program, and he laid out several specific steps for improving it:
- Chairman Wheeler pledged that there would be sufficient money available to fulfill all FY2014 Priority 1 applications.
- A Public Notice will be released “in the coming weeks”. Unlike the expansive NPRM that was released in July 2013, this Public Notice is likely to include specific recommendations and proposed rules that will take effect in FY2015.
- The FCC has initiated and is currently conducting a top-to-bottom review of the E-rate program’s administration. This review is being led by Jon Wilkins, Acting Managing Director and Advisor to the Chairman for Management.
- The FCC will take steps to decrease the amount of E-rate funds held in reserve. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in the USAC “checkbook” that are currently frozen and not being utilized. Through a combination of efforts, such as a reduction in the number of pending appeals and a review of accounting requirements, the FCC intends to put more dollars to work for applicants, potentially as soon as FY2014.
- The FCC will work to reduce unnecessary delays for all applicants, while prioritizing the review of those applications that impact the most students, such as consortia filings.
The FCC’s goal is to complete the entire rulemaking by the fall of 2014. In a separate statement, Funds For Learning CEO John Harrington expressed support for Chairman Wheeler’s “pragmatic course” of immediate and long-term improvements to the E-rate funding program.