Our hearts and prayers go out to all those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The devastation seen by the images on the television are horrific. I am sure the federal government and all the federal agencies will do what is within their power to provide aid and support during this crucial time. In fact, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will be visiting Texas to “inspect the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey and to meet with those engaged in recovery efforts.” I hope he will also find the time to visit one of the dozens of flooded schools to observe the negative impact the storm is having on tens of thousands of students and educators.
I am reminded when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped up after Hurricane Katrina. The FCC provided regulatory relief to school districts and the carriers as it took months to assess and evaluate the damage done and whether schools needed to be rebuilt or could be salvaged in any way. Many schools became shelters and were not open for normal business for a period of time as well.
The Houston Independent School District and many surrounding schools have already announced, at a minimum, they would start the school year after Labor Day and they need to assess the damage done by the storm. Houston ISD has already publicly stated that at least 10 percent of their schools have severe flooding and they will need to evaluate how and when to start the new school year. Many students, teachers and administrators have been evacuated from their homes and are in shelters and are trying to determine the extent of personal loss from Hurricane Harvey.
While the storm may rage on for a few more days, I would not want to see any of the impacted schools be subject to any penalties from the E-rate program because of missed deadlines or lack of responsiveness regarding the application review process for FY 2017. I am hoping the FCC has already begun to either work with USAC informally to address these issues or preparing a formal Order to waive certain regulatory requirements. In 2005, the FCC decided to waive procedural rules relating to the Universal Service Fund for a period of 150 days for those affected by Hurricane Katrina, to give the affected districts time to deal with the natural disaster.
Here is a link to specific E-rate regulatory relief the FCC gave schools during Hurricane Katrina that might be useful to the FCC now as they think about how to address this natural disaster.