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Supporting Applicants’ Needs, Not Defining Them

Efficiently and accurately communicating information within a school or library — and externally sharing it with the community — is of ever-growing importance. But deploying new communications tools and services is a huge challenge for most of these entities.

The communication needs that exist within any given school or library are driven by a myriad of factors.  Each organization’s needs are different and vary based on the demands (and abilities) of students, staff, and patrons, the availability and cost of communication technologies, access to end user devices, mandated requirements, and  the needs of the surrounding community.

Unfortunately, the adoption of new technologies is often driven not so much by these needs, but by budget constraints and the pace of technology changes – not to mention E-rate regulations and FCC priorities. To wit:  the E-rate funding program can empower schools to adopt new communications technologies, but it cannot force it.   The tail cannot wag the dog.

One of the E-rate reform ideas submitted to the FCC is to set certain technical definitions for the types and/or quantities of services that the E-rate program will support. If the E-rate regulations require schools to migrate to new technologies as a prerequisite to receiving E-rate discounts, the program risks wasting precious resources where they cannot yet be utilized.

The primary issues facing the current E-rate program are a) inadequate funding support for schools and libraries; and, b) the inherent inefficiencies that flow from its current regulatory structure. Reducing support for certain services does not “increase support for schools and libraries,” and adding new layers of rules (such as phasing out support for voice services) will add complexity to the program, further delaying funding decisions, overwhelming applicants, and decreasing the efficiency of the overall system.

Reform of the E-rate program should focus on enhancing the program’s ability to meet the needs of schools and libraries, not trying to define them.

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