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E-rate Regulations Hide True Demand

Schools and libraries count on E-rate support to bring Internet access on to their campuses, connecting students to the world around them. According to a national survey of applicants, the E-rate is vital to reaching connectivity goals (88%); ensures affordable access to broadband; brings faster Internet connections than would otherwise be available (80%); and connects more students and library patrons (78%). The E-rate program is the source that is driving affordable Internet, at faster speeds, to more students in our communities.
Given the significance of E-rate funding, and the rising demand for Wi-Fi connections, you would think that applications for E-rate dollars would be on the rise. But they are not. As shown below, the requests have been trending downward. 
Real demand for Internet connections and Wi-Fi is rising dramatically. Yet the dollars requested via the E-rate program are in decline and applicants consistently report that they need more money and more services funded. What is behind this trend? Unfortunately, it is the E-rate regulations. Schools need more Category Two funds, not less, but the regulations deny them funding if their applications exceed an arbitrary number. The regulations also require that schools and libraries remove network security and network management from their network, or again, be denied funding.

Another culprit is the regulation that put a stop to Voice over IP (VoIP) technology in schools and libraries. These groups spend nearly a billion dollars a year on voice services, and they desperately want to switch to modern IP-based telephone services. But, guess what? the E-rate regulations do not support it. Schools and libraries are left to fend for themselves if they want to upgrade to voices services that leverage the Internet and Wide Area Network connections.

School and library Internet access and communications should not be held back by these regulations. E-rate applicants should no longer be required to underreport their demand for connectivity; the Category Two budget caps should be raised to reflect the real demand; the regulations should be removed that prohibit network management and security devices; and the rules should once again allow for Voice over IP network hardware and services to receive support.

At a time when our schools and libraries need E-rate funding the most, we need the FCC to intervene to protect the E-rate program. Eliminating the regulations that limit applications and hold back demand will allow the program to achieve its full potential; Wi-Fi networks and advanced VoIP communications will transform places of learning faster; and overwhelmed E-rate administrators will find it easier to fulfill their responsibilities. Our students and library patrons are counting on the E-rate program. They deserve to be connected to the Internet, and it is up to the FCC to rid us of the regulations that block access to support, mask demand, and overly complicate the application process.

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