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E-rate Reform Offers Key Opportunity to Further Close Digital Divide

The FCC is in process of reforming the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund -- better known as "E-rate."  Last week, the FCC received comments  from over 700 members of the public – educators, librarians, state and local government, industry members, and non-profit companies – including Connected Nation – all that are working to bridge the digital divide for our nation’s students. 

Connected Nation’s comments focus on three key points that the FCC should follow as it modernizes the E-rate program: 

  • Connectivity at the School, in the Classroom, and at Home.  Connected Nation believes that the $2.3 billion E-rate program should prioritize high-speed broadband connectivity for school buildings, classrooms, and students – wherever they may be – to the Internet.  Mobile broadband technology is revolutionizing education, and it is imperative that the E-rate program recognize this opportunity and ensure that students be able to utilize these education applications not only in school, but wherever they may be.

  • Incentivize Community Technology Planning.  The nation’s schools and libraries need a broadband upgrade – and the trick to doing this in a cost-effective manner is to coordinate any and all infrastructure projects with other state and local broadband projects.  Connected Nation recommends that the E-rate program offer additional discounts to school and library E-rate applicants who ask for funding for infrastructure projects that are part of a broader community technology action plan.

  • Better Data will Lower Costs.  The E-rate program spends $2.3 billion per year on school and library connectivity – but the FCC and the company that administers the program, the Universal Service Administrative Company, do not routinely release comprehensive data on what precise services are purchased with those funds (and for how much).  Connected Nation believes that the release of more comprehensive data regularly will help inform communities and E-rate applicants to obtain better service at better prices.

For more detail, read Connected Nation’s comments here.  For more information on school connectivity, a recent article in T.H.E. Journal discusses how some schools have significant bandwidth coming in, but the vast majority of schools still have very basic levels of connectivity that are essentially much slower than the typical household has. 

More must be done to bridge the digital divide in these classrooms so that students and educators are given the tools they need for success. We see changes in the E-Rate program as a potential way to help this process, along with the help of our full Connected Nation team.

We've had a great Education Month and we're continuing to highlight the need to connect classrooms in communities across the nation. Let us know what you think by joining the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Stay Connected!