• FCC Seeks Additional Input to Improve E-Rate School & Library Technology Program
  • March 19, 2014 | Authors: Tyree K. Dorward; Gerard L. Lederer; Matthew K. Schettenhelm
  • Law Firms: Best Best & Krieger LLP - San Diego Office ; Best Best & Krieger LLP - Washington Office
  • The Federal Communication Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) released a second public notice seeking focused comment on three issues raised in the E-rate Modernization Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Comments in the proceeding are due by April 7, and reply comments are due by April 21 to address:

    • How best to focus E-rate funds on high-capacity broadband, especially high-speed Wi-Fi and internal connections;
    • Whether and how the Commission should begin to phase down or phase out support for traditional voice services in order to focus more funding on broadband; and
    • Whether there are demonstration projects or experiments that the Commission should authorize as part of the E-rate program that would help the Commission test new, innovative ways to maximize cost-effective purchasing in the E-rate program.

    BB&K will be assembling a coalition of local governments and local educators to provide input to the FCC. The BB&K coalition will seek to answer these questions (paragraph of the second public notice is identified in parentheses):

    • If the Commission is to expand funding for internal connections, what broadband equipment/software should the Commission fund? (¶ 11) If the Commission is to expand that funding, should the Commission:
      • retain the existing prioritization method, but limit upgrades to once every five years;
      • only fund an applicant after all other applicants have received support or declined the opportunity to seek funding; or
      • provide some support to all applicants every year? (¶¶ 14-22)
    • Should the Commission undertake a limited initiative within the priority-one system to incent the deployment of high-capacity broadband connections to schools and libraries? If so, how? Raise the discount rate for all? Adopt a flat discount rate for all applicants? Give full support to schools and libraries in remote areas or tribal lands? (¶¶ 24-29)
      • How should it identify schools and libraries that need support?
      • How should it prioritize applications?
      • Should it follow the current program’s “economic need” approach? Or a different measure? (¶¶ 30-33)
    • How can the Commission encourage consortium purchasing?
      • Should it require applicants seeking internal connections to provide a plan regarding their proposed use?
      • How can the Commission best collect data on speed and quality of school connections, and on the cost-effectiveness of purchases? (¶¶ 34-39)
    • How should the Commission reduce support for voice services—gradually, immediately, or just give it a lower priority? Should the Commission eliminate support for internal connections used for voice? Should it continue to support voice services in some areas? How can the Commission ease the administrative burdens related to reducing this support? (¶¶ 40-54)
    • Should the Commission develop any demonstration projects to test:
      • approaches to bulk purchasing,
      • a technical-assistance program,
      • temporary discounts for public-private partnerships,
      • linking last-mile infrastructure to BTOP funded networks? (¶¶ 55)

    The Universal Service Program for schools and libraries (more commonly called the E-rate program) provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. It is the federal government’s largest educational technology program. The program was established in the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, when only 14 percent of the nation's K-12 classrooms had access to the Internet. Today, virtually every library and school in the nation is connected to the Internet.

    Spending on the E-rate program is capped at $2.25 billion per year, indexed to inflation since 2010. For the 2013 funding year, schools and libraries sought E-rate funding in excess of $4.9 billion, more than twice the 2013 cap of $2.4 billion. Demand has exceeded the E-rate cap every year since the program's inception and FCC Chairman Wheeler recently announced that he would make an additional $1 billion in support available in 2014 and 2015.