The FY 2014 Form 471 filing window will close on March 26th. In the midst of this filing window, stakeholders are expecting the FCC to release another Public Notice seeking feedback on specific reforms proposals. This Public Notice could come as early as next week. Trent Harkrader, FCC Associate Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau posted a blog on the FCC website on February 20, 2014 and clarified that “…the application window will soon close for funding year 2014, and the rules of the road are those rules that are currently in place…” That statement reflects a firm commitment by the FCC that any new program rules released will affect only FY 2015 and beyond.
I want to thank the FCC for offering this clarification. Reducing uncertainty and communicating clearly in advance is always helpful.
Although it appears that the FCC is foregoing efforts to support on-campus student connectivity this year, I am encouraged by their clear commitment to return support to classrooms beginning in FY2015. Wi-Fi and other cost-effective connections to the Internet are the first priority for most schools. It is good to see the FCC coming around in its understanding of the needs of students and professional educators.
Finally, I was glad to see that rural schools are receiving the attention that they deserve. Mr. Harkrader stated the rural schools “…desperately need E-rate support for their own internal connections if our connectivity goals are to be achieved…” The current E-rate program rules offer no protection for rural schools. As Funds For Learning has pointed out, rural schools are routinely denied funding for Wi-Fi equipment while the Internet access requests of more affluent schools are funded. The Funds For Learning E-rate 2.0 proposal ensures that rural schools have access to twice as much money as their urban counterparts and provides them with the flexibility to set their own funding priorities. We support the FCC’s desire to protect rural schools.