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Modernizing E-Rate: Providing 21st Century Wi-Fi in Schools, Libraries

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Released: July 1, 2014
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Modernizing E-Rate:

Providing 21st Century Wi-Fi Networks

For Schools and Libraries across America

Federal Communications Commission

July 1, 2014

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“Eighteen years ago, the idea of a student-accessible computer in the school building

was a revolutionary concept. Thanks to E-Rate that rarity became commonplace and

computers moved into classrooms. Now with the next generation of E-Rate, we are

harnessing innovation to put that power directly in front of the student.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

National Digital Learning Day

February 5, 2014

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I. Modernizing E-Rate to Deliver Digital Learning Faster

Established in 1996, the FCC’s E-Rate program is the federal government’s largest educational

technology program – supporting Internet connectivity and other communications services for

schools and libraries. Despite the increasing need for wireless connectivity to support the latest

digital learning tools like tablets and interactive textbooks, the E-Rate program currently

provides limited support for Wi-Fi.

On July 11, 2014, the FCC will vote on an E-Rate modernization proposal that would

dramatically increase support for Wi-Fi connections in schools and libraries. FCC Chairman Tom

Wheeler put forward this proposal as the first step in comprehensively modernizing the

program. The proposal has three goals:

Close the Wi-Fi gap – get high-speed Internet to all classrooms and libraries by

2019.

Make the program rules fairer – ensure funding is available to the vast majority

of schools and libraries, not just a few.

Maximize existing funds – streamline the program and make it faster, simpler,

more efficient for all schools and libraries

The following analysis provides a state-by-state breakdown of the estimated number of

additional students, schools, and libraries that would gain the funding needed for Wi-Fi

upgrades under the pending proposal.

High-speed Internet: Transforming our schools and libraries

High-speed Internet connectivity is transforming almost every aspect of our economy and

society. Few areas hold more potential for technology-driven improvements than our nation’s

schools and libraries.

Connecting classrooms to the Internet connects students to a world of almost infinite

information online. It makes it possible for students in the most rural and remote communities

who cannot otherwise take AP Physics or Calculus to do so remotely at their own school. And

more powerful and affordable computers and mobile devices, coupled with new software, are

enabling new interactive educational content; tools for student collaboration, student-teacher

communication, and lesson planning; and remote tutoring.

The use of modern online tools, powered by high-speed Internet access and Wi-Fi, is

revolutionizing classroom instruction. Rather than delivering a one-size-fits-all lecture at the

front of the classroom, teachers are using technology to assess their students’ work in real-time

and offer more individually-focused instruction tailored to each student’s strengths and

weaknesses. Online learning also helps to ensure that American students have the digital

literacy skills they need to compete in the 21st Century global information economy.

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High-speed Internet is also transforming the roles of our libraries as places of learning and hubs

of information. In community after community the library is the only place where students can

go after school for free Internet access to complete homework assignments. And during the

summer, libraries are the only place many students can go to continue their online exploration

and learning. Many young adults rely on libraries to study for and take General Educational

Development (GED) tests, as well as college and graduate-level courses. In addition, tens of

millions of adult Americans use library computers to look for a job or learn new job skills, to

apply for health insurance, or to access government services.

The Educational Digital Divide

One essential ingredient for unlocking the potential of digital learning is high-speed wireless

connectivity in every classroom and every library workspace. Bringing wireless connectivity,

through Wi-Fi, fundamentally changes the classroom from one that is static and restrictive to

one that is dynamic and expansive, giving both teachers and students new ways to engage and

learn. As the President said a year ago in announcing the ConnectED initiative, “[i]n a Nation

where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?”

Yet, according to several studies, most schools and libraries lack robust Wi-Fi. A survey of

district technology leaders last year led by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), found

that only 43 percent of public school districts report that their internal connections are capable

of supporting a one device (e.g., tablet, laptop) per student deployment.

The CoSN survey also found that 50 percent of schools lack the internal wiring needed to

support the high-speed connections needed in today’s schools and that 28 percent of districts

are using slower copper or wireless backbones in their school local area networks (LANs).

While most public libraries offer some form of wireless local area network (WLAN) Internet

access, libraries report that they are increasingly unable to meet growing demand.

Bringing E-Rate in to the 21st Century

The FCC’s E-Rate program has long been a vital source of support for communications services

in schools and libraries. Yet it is not currently meeting the need for Wi-Fi, due in large part to

the program’s structure.

E-Rate funding is currently broken into two categories:

Priority 1 (telecommunications services, telecommunications, and Internet access

services) and

Priority 2 (internal connections and basic maintenance of internal connections).

Funding for Priority 2 is only available after all Priority 1 requests are funded. In Funding Year

2012, only the Priority 2 requests from the most impoverished schools (those eligible for a 90

percent discount rate) were funded. In Funding Year 2013, no funding was available for Priority

2 requests.

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In addition, as illustrated in Figures 1 and 2, funding for internal connections has reached very

few schools and libraries. From 2008 to 2013, E-Rate supported internal connections in just 4 to

11 percent of the more than 100,000 schools participating in the program each year.

Figure 1: E-Rate Funding for Internal Connections in Schools 2008-2013

For libraries, the situation is even worse. In each of the last five years, no more than 3 percent

of public library locations received a funding commitment for internal connections support, and

in recent years that funding was available, the number was just 1 percent. In other words, just

100 to 200 libraries – out of almost 17,000 eligible libraries nationwide – received any E-rate

funding at all for Wi-Fi.

Figure 2: E-Rate Funding for Internal Connections in Libraries 2008-2013

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II. Closing the Wi-Fi Gap

Strategic adjustments in the operation of the E-Rate program can begin to quickly fill this Wi-Fi

gap. The FCC and the program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company

(USAC), are in the midst of implementing improved financial management practices to more

quickly put to use excess cash balances. These changes are on track to free up $2 billion of new

funding over the next two years – a billion to be spent in each of 2015 and 2016 – that would

be invested in Wi-Fi upgrades under the new proposal.

Figure 3: Increase in E-Rate Funding for Wi-Fi in 2015 and 2016

Maximize existing funds

Funds for the following three years would come from two significant changes. First, the

Commission would phase down support for non-broadband services, like pagers, email and,

over a multi-year period, voice service. Those funds – nearly $1.2 billion in the E-Rate program

today – would be repurposed to support Wi-Fi. Second, the Commission would drive significant

cost savings for broadband services by making prices more transparent and facilitating greater

use of consortia-enabled bulk purchasing.

In addition, the FCC Chairman has proposed additional reforms that would allocate funding for

Wi-Fi in a more equitable manner, helping schools and libraries gain access to critical network

management services for today’s more complex networks, and bringing connectivity to millions

of additional students and library patrons. As part of the Commission's ongoing modernization

effort we will continue to assess long-term funding requirements.

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More Wi-Fi for Rural, Urban Schools and Libraries

Modernizing our rules to facilitate investment in Wi-Fi would result in a 75 percent increase in

Wi-Fi funding for rural areas, which have been disproportionately shut out by the current

system. Under existing rules rural schools on average receive 25 percent less Wi-Fi funding for

every student, and 50 percent less funding for every school, compared to their non-rural peers,

because the current rules often put them at the back of the line.

Figure 4: Projected Increase in Rural School Funding for Internal Connections 2015-2019

While increasing access to rural schools and libraries, the proposal would also dramatically

increase Wi-Fi funding to non-rural schools. By the end of 2019, urban and suburban schools

would see a 60 percent increase in funding compared to the last five years.

Figure 5: Projected Increase in Urban and Suburban School Funding for Internal Connections 2015-2019

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Maximizing current funds, connecting millions

This proposal, if adopted, would inject $2 billion dollars in new repurposed funding in 2015 and

2016, and, combined with the associated programmatic reforms, would result in millions more

students, tens of thousands of additional schools, and thousands of additional libraries getting

support for badly needed Wi-Fi upgrades by 2019. These positive impacts would be felt in every

state nationwide.

Figure 6: Projected increase in students at schools receiving funding for Wi-Fi upgrades by 2019.

State Impacts

Section III provides a state-by-state breakdown of the estimated additional students, schools,

and libraries that would gain the funding needed for Wi-Fi upgrades under the Chairman’s

proposal. For each state, FCC staff compared the number of schools (all public and non-profit

elementary and secondary schools in the state, except those with large private endowments)

that received internal connections funding over the last five years to the number that would

have guaranteed available Wi-Fi funding over the next five years under the proposed order. The

table shows the increase in funded schools, as well as the number of students attending those

schools. It also shows the increase in funded libraries. In each case, the table also shows the

percentage increase—for example, if twice as many schools will receive funding over the next

five years as received funding over the last five years, the table shows a 100% increase.

Wi-Fi upgrades are by no means the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to connecting all

students to the benefits of digital learning and supporting all libraries in bringing robust

connectivity to their communities. But by acting now, the FCC can move forward on these

critical program updates this summer, even as it continues to work on other aspects of

modernizing this large, complex, but vital program for 21st Century learning.

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III. State by State Benefits of the Proposed E-Rate Modernization Order

Next 5 Years vs. Last 5 Years

% Change in

State

Additional

% Change in

Additional

Additional

Additional

Students

Students Impact

Schools

Libraries

Schools

Schools

& Libraries

& Libraries

Funded

Alaska

124,619

1132%

449

107

556

479%

Alabama

476,864

150%

1,113

295

1,408

222%

Arkansas

408,286

427%

982

221

1,203

463%

Arizona

776,834

224%

1,834

198

2,032

320%

California

5,377,301

401%

10,755

1,083

11,838

467%

Colorado

740,583

506%

1,835

249

2,084

624%

Connecticut

572,479

1189%

1,384

242

1,626

1344%

District of Columbia

70,120

439%

245

0

245

310%

Delaware

146,404

3470%

323

32

355

4438%

Florida

2,156,550

285%

4,447

518

4,965

412%

Georgia

1,276,445

247%

2,138

380

2,518

288%

Hawaii

188,020

809%

367

51

418

889%

Iowa

467,711

856%

1,516

564

2,080

1612%

Idaho

259,187

961%

726

143

869

924%

Illinois

2,069,263

875%

5,210

793

6,003

1095%

Indiana

1,022,699

903%

2,345

431

2,776

1245%

Kansas

470,693

1006%

1,443

368

1,811

1215%

Kentucky

465,138

176%

1,100

199

1,299

207%

Louisiana

620,709

325%

1,360

272

1,632

306%

Massachusetts

967,510

987%

2,343

432

2,775

1101%

Maryland

856,452

739%

1,850

164

2,014

629%

Maine

180,211

914%

691

272

963

1376%

Michigan

1,468,497

712%

3,853

648

4,501

820%

Minnesota

833,540

1030%

2,470

360

2,830

1169%

Missouri

910,761

875%

2,577

345

2,922

984%

Mississippi

325,631

158%

649

184

833

159%

Montana

140,009

1487%

868

111

979

1659%

North Carolina

1,210,542

328%

2,296

379

2,675

331%

North Dakota

101,037

2210%

518

91

609

3806%

Nebraska

325,206

5082%

1,205

286

1,491

6777%

New Hampshire

209,174

4480%

736

235

971

6936%

New Jersey

1,270,843

506%

3,060

425

3,485

523%

New Mexico

225,765

163%

637

109

746

173%

Nevada

426,062

1426%

727

88

815

1315%

New York

2,241,532

254%

4,588

924

5,512

264%

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Additional

Additional

% Change in

State

% Change in

Additional

Additional

Schools

Students

Students Impact

Schools

Libraries

Schools

& Libraries

& Libraries

Funded

Ohio

1,741,184

866%

4,142

695

4,837

873%

Oklahoma

458,182

200%

1,086

154

1,240

134%

Oregon

495,526

496%

1,459

214

1,673

644%

Pennsylvania

1,684,486

521%

4,539

533

5,072

633%

Rhode Island

132,623

431%

374

61

435

449%

South Carolina

530,793

222%

1,032

183

1,215

249%

South Dakota

127,935

951%

723

148

871

1300%

Tennessee

899,547

536%

1,849

287

2,136

595%

Texas

4,144,033

412%

8,148

834

8,982

489%

Utah

563,912

1484%

1,032

126

1,158

1182%

Virginia

1,228,312

1051%

2,367

332

2,699

1097%

Vermont

89,635

2060%

394

185

579

2517%

Washington

966,487

635%

2,480

337

2,817

751%

Wisconsin

850,706

635%

2,777

461

3,238

1062%

West Virginia

253,463

621%

739

164

903

717%

Wyoming

87,378

2597%

369

76

445

2119%

Total

43,636,879

102,150

15,989

118,139

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