The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently issued two modernization orders for the E-Rate program. The orders went into effect this year.
E-Rate, created by the U.S. Telecommunications Act of 1996, helps ensure that K–12 schools and libraries, particularly those in low-income or rural areas, have affordable access to telecommunications and Internet services.
The program provides annual subsidies, or “discounts,” of 20 to 90 percent for eligible services and technology equipment. The discount rates are determined by the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program. Public K–12 schools and districts and most nonprofit schools are eligible for E-Rate funding. Rural schools are typically eligible for higher discount rates than urban schools.
The FCC overhauled the E-Rate program after President Barack Obama called on the agency to modernize the program to meet broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity goals outlined in his ConnectED Initiative.
This initiative aims to provide 99 percent of America’s students with next-generation broadband (at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, with a target of 1 gigabit per second) and to establish high-speed Wi-Fi networks in schools within the next five years.
Highlights of the modernization orders include:
Increased funding: E-Rate funding will increase from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion annually.
More Wi-Fi support: The increased funding includes a target of $1 billion per year for internal connections, such as local area networks (LANs) and Wi-Fi, for the next five years.
Phasing out voice services: To focus on broadband and Wi-Fi, the E-Rate program will begin phasing out phone services, including cellphone plans, starting in the 2015 funding year.
Increased broadband options: Of particular benefit to rural districts, schools can now purchase dark fiber as well as build their own high-speed broadband facilities, if that’s the most cost-effective option.
For more on the modernization of the E-Rate program and how it will affect your school, read CDW’s white paper Get Ready for E-Rate 2.0.