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The FCC's E-rate program connects the nation's schools and libraries to broadband.  It is the government's largest educational technology program.  When E-rate was established in 1996, only 14 percent of the nation's K-12 classrooms had access to the Internet. Today, virtually all schools and libraries have Internet access.

But learning is changing.  Innovative digital learning technologies and the growing importance of the Internet in connecting students, teachers and consumers to jobs, life-long learning and information, are creating increasing demand for bandwidth in schools and libraries.  In an FCC survey of E-rate recipients, nearly half of respondents reported lower speed Internet connectivity than the average American home - despite having, on average, 200 times as many users.

The FCC began updating E-rate in 2010 and on July 11, 2014, adopted the E-rate Modernization Order (PDF) (see Order Summary), expanding Wi-Fi networks in schools and libraries across America while ensuring support continues to be available for broadband connectivity to schools and libraries.

The program increases focus on the largest and most urgent need—closing the Wi-Fi gap—while transitioning support away from legacy technologies to 21st Century broadband connectivity, ensuring E-rate money is spent smartly, and improving program administration. The reform will expand Wi-Fi to more than 10 million students in 2015 alone.

On December 11, 2014, the FCC took the next step in modernizing the E-rate program, by adopting the Second E-rate Modernization Order (PDF) (see Order Summary), which sets out to maximize options for schools and libraries seeking to purchase high-speed broadband and adjusting the E-rate spending cap to $3.9 billion.  Among other provisions, the Order takes further steps to improve the overall administration of the program and maximizes the options schools and libraries have for purchasing affordable high-speed broadband connectivity by:

  • Suspending the requirement that applicants seek funding for large up front construction costs over several years, and allowing applicants to pay their share of one-time, up-front construction costs over multiple years
  • Equalizing the treatment of schools and libraries seeking support for dark fiber with those seeking support for lit fiber.  Dark fiber leases allow the purchase of capacity without the service of transmitting data – lighting the fiber. Dark fiber can be an especially cost-effective option for smaller, rural districts
  • Allowing schools and libraries to build high-speed broadband facilities themselves when that is the most cost-effective option, subject to a number of safeguards
  • Providing an incentive for state support of last-mile broadband facilities through a match from E-rate of up to 10% of the cost of construction, with special consideration for Tribal schools
  • Requiring carriers that receive subsidies from the universal service program for rural areas – called the High Cost program – to offer high-speed broadband to schools and libraries located in the subsidy area at rates reasonably comparable to similar services in urban areas
  • Increasing the certainty and predictability of funding for Wi-Fi by expanding the five-year budget approach to providing more equitable support for internal connections – known as category two – through funding year 2019

Modernizing E-rate is critical for the future of our children and our citizens. We encourage all to comment on the reform proposals so that we can ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to the high-speed broadband they need - in the most effective, efficient way possible.

To assist stakeholders in navigating the data-intensive record in this proceeding, the Bureau released a Staff Report jointly authored by the Bureau and the Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis and two Fiber Connectivity Maps on Aug. 12, 2014. Please read FCC Managing Director Jon Wilkins' blog post "Moving Forward with a Data-Driven E-rate Modernization Process" for additional information.

To further assist the Commission, stakeholders and the public in navigating the large and data-intensive record in the E-rate Modernization proceeding as the long-term funding needs of the program are considered, on Nov. 17, 2014, the Bureau released an E-rate Data Update (Word | PDF) to supplement the Staff Report.

Documents

Recent Commission Documents

Recent Bureau Documents

Commission Meetings

FCC Continues E-rate Reboot to Meet the Needs of 21st Century Digital Learning

FCC Modernizes E-rate To Expand Robust Wi-Fi in Schools & Libraries

FCC Launches Update of E-rate for Broadband in Schools and Libraries

Workshops

Speeches

Blog Posts

Updated: January 13, 2015
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