Watching the inauguration of Donald Trump today, I am struck by the real-world impact of elections, policies, and regulations. What takes place in the Capitol really matters. The E-rate is “mission critical” to empowering our nation’s students and library patrons. The work it has done (and is doing) is incredibly important.
During the Obama administration, many steps were taken to improve the E-rate. The Funding cap was increased; support was restored for on-campus Wi-Fi; and applicants were given the opportunity to build their own wide area networks. These were much-needed changes and I am grateful for them.
Now, as we turn our sites to a new administration, including new leadership at the FCC, I am looking forward to seeing additional improvements. Here is a list of areas that I think need urgent attention.
Declining participation. There are fewer E-rate applicants today than there were four years ago. Added complexities, painful delays and the loss of support for voice services are driving schools and libraries away from the program. Fewer students are benefiting from the program. This needs to be fixed.
Deepening digital divide. Millions of students go home and their electronic books go dim. This homework gap should not be tolerated. Today’s E-rate rules penalize schools and libraries that extend their networks into their communities. This needs to be fixed.
Defining local solutions. The E-rate has drifted ever so slightly from its technology-neutral roots. Schools and libraries should have the final say in what tech solutions best fit their needs. Policies that promote one tech solution over another – and application review procedures that overrule local good sense – are creeping in. Limits and controls are good; however, the current trajectory needs adjustment. This needs to be fixed.
The E-rate enjoys strong bi-partisan support in DC. Students and library patrons deserve the best our nation has to give and I am hopeful that the new FCC will build on recent improvements.