Last week I had the opportunity to witness the rarest of events: a public apology from a federal government official. Nick Degani, a senior advisor to FCC Chairman Pai, stepped up to the podium at the annual SHLB conference and, without hesitation, he said he was sorry for the challenges that E-rate applicants have experienced recently. I have to say, it was quite refreshing to hear such a candid acknowledgement of a simple reality: the E-rate application process is not what it used to be. The process is harder and more time consuming while taking longer to deliver less support. Mr. Degani simply acknowledged what most of us all understand: the administrative dials are pointing in the wrong direction.
This is the point in the conversation that many people pull me aside and say something like “we can’t say anything bad about the E-rate. E-rate is too important. And Pai is going to kill it. We need E-rate funding.” I disagree with this thinking. It is because the E-rate program is so important that we should acknowledge the situation. Schools and libraries depend on this support. They see it as vital to getting better broadband connections to their students and library patrons. Stating the obvious, that funding commitments have been too slow, and the process harder than it needs to be, does not negate or diminish the significance of the E-rate. On the contrary, if E-rate support was not so important then it would not matter. But it does matter. It matters a lot.
This is why I am so relieved to hear the FCC publicly acknowledge the problems with the current administration of the program and to publicly commit to making it better. Broadband connectivity is mission critical for our schools and libraries. They rely on the E-rate program to get them those connections, and they deserve to have an E-rate program that works as well and as hard as they do. I believe that the current FCC is committed to doing just that.