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Blog Posts by Jon Wilkins

A Dialogue on E-rate Pricing Data

November 16, 2015 - 12:48 PM

As part of the E-rate Modernization Order adopted last year, the Commission decided to increase pricing transparency in the E-rate program by making information publicly available regarding services and equipment purchased by schools and libraries, including line-item costs. To that end, the Commission directed the Office of the Managing Director and USAC to make such information available through open APIs and bulk data files posted on USAC’s website:

Helping schools and libraries obtain the best possible pricing is important for several reasons. First, funding for E-rate comes from ratepayers, and we seek to ensure that the public is getting the best value for its money. Second, E-rate does not foot the entire bill for E-rate supported services; schools and libraries share the cost of their E-rate services, which means taxpayers across the country have an interest in making sure their schools and libraries don’t spend more than necessary. Third, the funding is a shared resource -- every school or library that secures a better price helps stretch the E-rate budget to serve even more schools and libraries with better, faster service. Finally, by federal statute, all telecommunications carriers are to provide services to schools and libraries “at rates less than the amounts charged for similar services to other parties” (that's all customers, not just other schools and libraries). As a tool to help deliver on this Congressional objective, however, providing the data to make comparisons even just between and among schools and libraries is a good starting point.

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Taking the Next Step in E-rate Modernization

by Jon Wilkins, Managing Director
November 17, 2014 - 11:52 AM

Today, Chairman Wheeler announced that he will be circulating a draft order to his fellow Commissioners for consideration at the December Commission Meeting to take the next step in his comprehensive effort to modernize the E-rate program. If you recall, the Commission adopted an Order in July to make the program more efficient and transparent so that schools get the most bang for their E-rate buck. At the same time, the Commission moved to close the Wi-Fi gap by targeting $1 billion annually to expand Wi-Fi connections in all the nation’s schools and libraries to support modern digital learning. As significant a step as that was, the Commission was able to accomplish this without increasing E-rate’s $2.4 billion cap by phasing down support for legacy services which will save an estimated $3.5 billion over five years, funds that can be redeployed for broadband services. 

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Connecting All Schools and Libraries – Learning from State Strategies and Data

by Jon Wilkins, Managing Director
September 19, 2014 - 12:55 PM

Outreach to state and school district staff and library leaders has been a critical element of the E-rate modernization process.  Commission staff has been in frequent contact with staff from school districts, state agencies, libraries, and research and education networks (RENs) from across the country.  These outreach efforts provide important insights on the varying approaches that states are taking to the challenge of delivering high-speed broadband to all schools and libraries. 

Much of the knowledge gained from our outreach is compiled in the State Connectivity Profiles released today.   Each State Connectivity Profile lays out an overview of K-12 school and library connectivity in the state, including an explanation of any state network or REN infrastructure and a breakdown overview of how schools and libraries purchase Internet access, wide area network (WAN) connections, and internal connections. 

These profiles provide a thorough summary of connectivity data, purchasing strategies, and broadband deployment policies from a geographically diverse sample of states with differing populations and approaches to delivering high-speed broadband to all schools and libraries.  All connectivity data and narrative descriptions in the State Connectivity Profiles are drawn from conversations with school district, state agency, or REN staff and have been reviewed and verified by the appropriate staff in each state. 

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

by Jon Wilkins, Managing Director
August 12, 2014 - 02:12 PM

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 - 02:21 PM
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 - 01:53 PM

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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