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Blog Posts by Jon Wilkins

Moving Forward with a Data-Driven E-rate Modernization Process

by Jon Wilkins, Managing Director
August 12, 2014

Last month the Commission took a major step forward in modernizing E-rate by tackling the school and library Wi-Fi gap, maximizing cost-effective purchasing, and phasing down support for non-broadband services. In addition, the item includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on, among other things, the long-term funding needs of the program in light of the overall broadband goals and the annual $1 billion target for Wi-Fi adopted in the E-rate Modernization Order

Chairman Wheeler has made clear that data will drive answers to questions about program funding, based on an understanding of current school and library connectivity and the projected costs necessary for all schools and libraries to meet the goals adopted in the E-rate Modernization Order. 

In support of this objective, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Strategic Planning and Policy today released a staff report summarizing what we have learned to date as the result of an extraordinary effort to collect and analyze data, both about the current state of communications technology in America’s libraries and schools as well as the way the E-Rate program provides support.  We also published two maps providing a visualization of current fiber availability for schools and libraries across the country.  

The report is a highly illuminating read, both for longtime experts in the E-rate program as well as those more broadly interested in the state of education technology in America today.  A few insights from the report really stand out:

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FCC and GSA Team Up to Help Schools and Libraries Save Money on Wi-Fi

by Jon Wilkins, Acting Managing Director
June 26, 2014
FCC and GSA Team Up to Help Schools and Libraries

Correcting the lack of robust Wi-Fi in schools and libraries is a major focus of our E-rate modernization efforts. Nearly 60 percent of schools in America lack sufficient Wi-Fi to provide their students and teachers with modern educational tools, and far too many schools simply have no Wi-Fi at all. As the President said a year ago in announcing the ConnectED initiative, which called for high-speed wireless connectivity in all schools and libraries, “[i]n a Nation where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?”

The Chairman circulated an Order that will take steps to modernize the E-rate program last week, but our commitment to resolving the Wi-Fi gap in our nation’s schools and libraries does not end there. In support of the Chairman’s two overarching goals for the E-rate modernization proceeding – ensuring all schools and libraries have access to high speed broadband and maximizing the cost-effectiveness of E-rate supported purchases – the FCC and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) have entered into an agreement to partner to deliver to schools and libraries the opportunity to consolidate their purchasing power and save significant money on wireless access points, routers, and the other equipment they need to deploy modern, robust Wi-Fi networks. We expect this opportunity to be available for E-rate applicants in Funding Year 2015.

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Managing E-Rate to Maximize Benefits for Schools & Libraries

by Jon Wilkins, Acting Managing Director
June 17, 2014

What does good management have to do with quality education?  When it comes to the E-rate program, quite a bit.  In recent months, we have been improving management of E-rate to speed approval of broadband expansion projects sought by schools and libraries across the country. And it’s working: E-rate funding will reach the $1 billion milestone this week for funding year 2014, twice as fast as any previous year in E-Rate history.

These early commitments will enable schools and libraries to put E-rate dollars to work sooner for students and patrons.  For example, E-rate supported broadband connections will help the Baltimore County Public School System continue its roll-out of a one-to-one personalized digital learning environment to the district’s 100,000 students. 

We’ve made a particular effort to speed larger applications this year, including state and regional consortia.  Included in the $1 billion of commitments to date are state-level consortium applications in Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia.  Statewide and consortium applications can simplify processes for applicants, increase access in rural areas, and drive down costs for consortium members and for E-rate.  For example, the Mississippi state consortium recently negotiated new, low, flat-rate pricing for high speed connectivity across most of the state, driving down prices for all districts, and helping rural districts get connected without special construction charges.  The program administrator – USAC – and the FCC have dramatically accelerated the processing of state-level consortium applications this year.

You can search other funding commitments on USAC’s web site.

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