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Dear FCC: E-rate Can Connect Students Now

Dear FCC Chairman Pai:

Please provide immediate E-rate financial support for Wi-Fi connections to school and library-owned devices that support K-12 students. With a few tweaks, and a little extra time, the existing E-rate application process could be used to positively impact millions of people, allowing for education to continue and for lives to be saved.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a monumental increase in awareness of the importance of broadband Internet availability and reliability. Now, people are recognizing the fact that millions of K-12 students lack access to adequate Wi-Fi connections. These children are needlessly isolated from educational resources, including teachers, digital learning platforms, and their fellow students. This is unacceptable.
What is stopping us from getting every student online?
  • Do we need to develop the technology? No, the technology is available and is widely used.
  • Do we need infrastructure to deploy the technology? No, our schools and libraries are ready to do their part.
  • Do we need to create a new program to oversee this initiative? No, there is an administrative process and accounting controls already in place to manage it.
  • Do we lack funding from a budget? No, the available E-rate budget cap is $4.2 billion, and the current demand is $3.0 billion. This means more than $1 billion is still available.
Amazingly, the only thing holding these students back from being online is a handful of archaic FCC regulations. Getting our students connected should not come down to an attorney’s interpretation of the phrases “educational purposes” and “community use”. Does learning end at 3pm? Does a Wi-Fi signal stop at the school’s property line? No, of course not. That is a ridiculous notion.

The educational process — things like lectures, homework, studying, and collaboration — does not fit neatly into school hours or onto school property, and the FCC needs to stop acting like it does. Now is the time for the FCC to start interpreting its own rules with a little common sense. You and your fellow Commissioners could dramatically alter our nation’s education landscape, and the solution could not be any easier or quicker to implement. It’s called the E-rate program and it is ready to do its job like never before.

Please act today.
  • Fund Internet access to any school-owned devices. Whether it is a school bus or a laptop computer, if a school owns a device its Internet access should qualify for support. The same should hold true for libraries.
  • Eliminate cost allocations and stop accounting for off-campus usage. Don’t let property lines define education any longer.
Beyond that, everything we need is in place. The online application process is up and running, the Forms allow for applicants to select Wi-Fi hotspots to receive support,  and the E-rate program is a discount program, meaning that applicants have “skin in the game” and will only request what they need. You can extend the filing deadline to May 28, 2020, and let schools and libraries take care of the rest.
There is an immediate need that the FCC is uniquely equipped to address. I implore you to step up, take action, and give our schools and libraries the support they need to connect our communities in this time of national crisis.
John D. Harrington
Chief Executive Officer
P.S. Even the Government Accounting Office (GAO) thinks the FCC should consider supporting off-campus connectivity for students. The GAO is not generally considered to be a free-wheeling, “throw caution to the wind” sort of organization, and their recommendation was made in 2019 – long before students were sent home to work online because of a global pandemic.
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