Over the past 17 years, I have been fortunate to witness, firsthand, a revolution in classroom communication – a revolution lead by voice communications, also known as telephony.
Telephony is very important for K-12 education. For many practical reasons, not the least of which being campus security, I cannot fathom rolling back the clock and eliminating phone service from our schools. Yet that seems to be the position many are taking in the current E-rate modernization debate. To be clear, most of them are not overtly against phones in the classroom. Their position is more a sin of omission. They see voice service as an application that will ride solely on top of a Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. Schools simply cannot rely on Skype as their phone company.
Schools deserve and require enterprise-grade telephony. Most schools that I talk with desire to move to a digital form of telephony referred to as VoIP. Owning a VoIP telephony system can lower expenses and increase functionality. Unfortunately, the FCC’s current E-rate funding priority system has, in effect, eliminated a purchased VoIP solution as an option. Schools either have to contract with a vendor for a VoIP service – an option that undermines most of the potential savings associated with these systems – or they have to purchase the system outright without any E-rate support.
As I have previously shared, schools need support, not help setting their priorities. In the upcoming reform process, it would be fantastic if the FCC were to remove the regulatory barriers that have limited the deployment of VoIP voice services; the FCC should allow schools to set their own funding priorities and timelines for technology integration; and the FCC should maintain support for VoIP internal connections.
Communication is key in any operation and our nation’s schools are no exception. They not only desire, but also require support for voice communications technology and the ability to prioritize according to their own needs. Our schools have a voice—the E-rate program can and should be an invaluable source in letting them use it.