An additional 44 million students, 102,000 schools, and 16,000 libraries would have access to Wi-Fi services over the next five years under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to modernize the E-rate program, according to an FCC report released on July 1. The FCC is scheduled to vote on Wheeler’s plan on Friday, July 11.
“Technology has changed. The needs of schools and libraries have changed. The E-rate program must reflect these changes.” said Chairman Wheeler. “Modernizing E-rate to expand Wi-Fi connectivity in schools and libraries will empower students and library patrons to use the latest education technology to access new learning opportunities and infinite worlds of information.”
E-rate, the federal government’s largest educational technology program, supports internet connectivity and other communications services for the nation’s schools and libraries. Currently, however, it provides little support for Wi-Fi even as students, teachers, and library patrons increasingly rely on tablets, laptops, and other devices to access the internet.
“Today, three out of five schools in America lack sufficient Wi-Fi capability needed to provide students with twenty-first-century educational tools,” Wheeler wrote in a June 20 entry on the official FCC blog.
Taken from the FCC report, the graph below shows how E-rate supported internal internet connections such as Wi-Fi in only 4 to 11 percent of schools from 2008 to 2013. Last year, no E-rate money was available for Wi-Fi. Among the nation’s libraries, only 1 percent received any E-rate funding for Wi-Fi. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
Wheeler’s plan to modernize E-rate would transition funding away from outdated technologies like pagers and dial-up connections in favor of Wi-Fi. If adopted, up to $2 billion in funding would be provided for Wi-Fi upgrades over the next two years and result in a 75 percent increase in Wi-Fi funding for rural areas and a 60 percent increase for urban and suburban schools.
Wheeler’s plan would also take several steps to make E-rate dollars go further, including increasing transparency on how they are spent and what prices are charged for E-rate services. It would implement several changes, making the application process simpler and more efficient.
The FCC report, Modernizing E-Rate: Providing 21st Century Wi-Fi Networks for Schools and Libraries Across America, is available at http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2014/db0701/DOC-327993A1.pdf.