A huge majority — 88 percent — of school districts met the Federal Communications Commission’s target for minimum internet connectivity (100Kbps per student) in 2016, Education Week’s Technology Counts survey reports. This number is up from 30 percent just three years prior. Many of these districts likely have the E-rate program — a government funding program that helps schools and libraries to obtain affordable broadband — to thank for their increased internet connections.
About 79 percent of school districts and libraries say they have faster internet connections because of E-rate, reports a preview of Funds for Learning’s 2017 E-rate Trends. Another 78 percent say that E-rate has helped them connect more students and library patrons than ever before.
“While the political climate has shifted, one thing has remained the same: E-rate is vital and will continue to play an indispensable role in connecting schools and communities,” says Funds for Learning CEO John Harrington in the report preview.
Though E-rate is not immediately impacted by a new administration in the White House, with the FCC gaining new leadership, experts are concerned about the program in the long run.
“We shouldn’t take E-rate for granted,” said Sheryl Abshire, CTO for Calcasieu Parish School System in Louisiana, at a TCEA 2017 session covered by EdTech. “We need to be prepared. We need to let our publics know that they need to pay attention.”
Abshire and other experts indicate that advocacy by school districts and organizations like CoSN will help to continue efforts to close the digital divide.
During recent confirmation hearings of FCC nominees, Education Week reports that lawmakers questioned their intentions of changing the program. Though the nominees — and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — didn’t have a clear plan concerning E-rate, they made a point to say that the FCC was considering ways to optimize the program.
“For years, I’ve said the E-rate is a program worth fighting for,” Pai said at the hearings.
Though the school year is still weeks away and 2018 is even further, education experts are urging districts to get moving on their plans for next year’s E-rate funding.
“While 2018 may seem pretty far away, it’s much closer than you think in E-rate time,” writes CDW•G Business Development Manager Amy Passow on EdTech. “That’s because a significant amount of planning and paperwork needs to happen before much-needed networking products go into your schools.”
Passow recommends that school districts think about the networking infrastructure they will need a year from now. No changes to the program are anticipated until funding year 2019 or 2020.