Modernizing E-Rate: Providing 21st Century Wi-Fi in Schools, Libraries
Providing 21st Century Wi-Fi Networks
For Schools and Libraries across America
Federal Communications Commission
July 1, 2014
“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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Figure 6: Projected increase in students at schools receiving funding for Wi-Fi upgrades by 2019.
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.
III. State by State Benefits of the Proposed E-Rate Modernization Order
Next 5 Years vs. Last 5 Years
% Change in
% Change in
District of Columbia
% Change in
% Change in
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