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.
Specifically, the two agencies agreed to work together to establish blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) administered by GSA's National Information Technology Commodity Program (NITCP) for the benefit of E-rate eligible schools and libraries. Once implemented, the BPAs would allow schools and libraries to utilize the GSA's reverse auction platform to seek bids from equipment vendors at prices even better than those already available under the relevant GSA schedule. Given that data in our record indicates that equipment makes up as much as 80 percent of the total cost of internal network deployment, this would provide a real opportunity for all schools and libraries to save potentially significant amounts as they upgrade their internal connections, and allow our limited E-rate dollars to go further.
Like our successful effort to speed the processing of larger E-rate applications this year, this signing marks an additional step in our effort to improve the overall management of the E-rate program. We are very excited to be working on this project with GSA, and will be working aggressively to ensure that all schools and libraries know of and are able to take advantage of this opportunity.