FCC Chairman Wheeler’s E-Rate Proposal: A Pragmatic First Step Forward
July 2, 2014 by Doug Levin
SETDA is supportive of the major elements of FCC Chairman Wheeler’s E-rate modernization proposal as the first in a series of steps the FCC must take to modernize the program to meet the needs of students and educators in a digital age. The main reasons for our support are because the proposal:
- Addresses the problem of inequitable access to educational opportunity by better targeting program funds to technologies and services directly related to teaching and learning and dramatically increasing the numbers of students who will benefit. SETDA shined a light on this issue in our landmark 2012 report, The Broadband Imperative, which has served as a clarion call to policymakers and education leaders to ensure all students are able to access the educational resources and opportunities they need via broadband no matter their zip code or socioeconomic status.
- Doubles federal investment in technologies that deliver high-capacity broadband for learning. The Chairman’s proposal will dramatically increase investment in broadband access in and throughout schools and classrooms in the years to come. Over 43 million students in more than 100,000 schools will reap the benefits of this increased investment for the first time in at least the last five years. This targeted funding represents a 75 percent increase in funding for internal connections in rural schools and a 60 percent increase for urban and suburban schools.
- Supports long-term planning for digital learning by increasing the certainty of year-over-year support under E-rate for Wi-Fi and related services. The ‘shift to digital‘ is well-underway in K-12 education and with it comes the need for ongoing budget and investment for broadband, for learning devices, for software and content, for professional development, and for technical support. The Chairman’s proposal will provide districts and states with greater insights into the federal support they can expect to receive under E-rate, so other public and private resources can be devoted to the necessary and complementary investments required to support student learning in a digital age.
- Generates information to support future decision making by re-evaluating the types of information collected via E-rate applications and increasing the transparency of program operations. Before the current E-rate modernization proceeding launched, we knew far too little about the actual quality of connectivity of schools and classrooms, the reasons why the gap between what we need and what we had was so large (despite 18 years of prior investment by E-rate), and where E-rate program operations either contributed to that gap or simply didn’t help to close it. Moreover, better information will encourage new partnerships with the private sector and new ideas from state and local governments about how to address some of the most persistent and pernicious challenges facing public education – challenges which have resulted in significant educational achievement and attainment gaps among student populations across classrooms, schools, districts and states over time. We need better information and new strategies and tactics to address these longstanding challenges, and the Chairman’s proposal will help ensure we have the tools to do so.
There are resources available to learn more about the E-rate modernization proposal under consideration at the FCC. These include a fact sheet on the proposal, a blog that provides answers to common questions about the proposal, and a new report, Modernizing E-Rate: Providing 21st Century Wi-Fi Networks For Schools and Libraries across America, which details on a state-by-state basis how students, schools and libraries will benefit under the proposed changes.
The current proposal before the FCC is an important first step forward in a series of steps the agency must take to modernize the program. Based on extended analyses of available data on program operations and school needs, it represents pragmatic and necessary progress, but alone is insufficient to addressing the complete needs of schools and students. We are encouraged that Chairman Wheeler has and continues to underscore that fact, including signaling his openness to seeking permanent increases in funding for the program, while in the mean time moving forward now to ensure that students are able to begin to reap the benefits of E-rate modernization as soon as possible and certainly not later than the 2015-16 school year.