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. 

Since then, the FCC has continued to gather facts and data about how the program can meet the next big challenge: ensuring that Internet connections to schools and libraries are sufficiently robust to support the increasing demands of 21st century digital learning, including the new Wi-Fi networks and all the tablets and laptops that will be connected to them. Today, the Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis are releasing an “E-rate Data Update” staff report summarizing the information the Commission has received since the July E-rate Modernization Order and staff analysis of it.  The Chairman also summarized these findings in a press call joined by Senator Markey, who was instrumental in the creation of E-rate. This press fact sheet provides a succinct description of the Internet connectivity gaps and the Chairman’s proposal to adjust the program’s spending cap to a level that will enable long-term E-rate connectivity targets to be met. The order the Chairman circulates this week will also propose a series of targeted rule changes designed to ensure that the nation’s students and life-long learners can get the 21st Century educations required to keep the nation globally competitive.

Stay tuned.