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Four Big Ideas on E-Rate 2.0

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August 02, 2013 08:15 pm

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It’s Thursday, and that means it’s time to talk digital learning! Today’s post comes from Terri Schwartzbeck, Senior Digital Outreach Associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education. 

Last week I had the opportunity to join a small group in conversation with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has led much of the charge at the FCC to modernize the E-Rate program. The FCC recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to that end, but it is really more of a framework of a proposal with approximately “one thousand to one million questions” on which the FCC would like your input. 

Commissioner Rosenworcel also suggested four big ideas that are at the heart of the efforts to modernize the E-Rate program.

  1. Funding. The cap on E-Rate was set when gas was a dollar a gallon. That is just one sign that it needs to be revisited. We need to make better use of the resources we have, but we also need to explore ways to generate more funding. This is a challenging conversation to have in this day and age, but the need to upgrade the infrastructure of our schools and libraries to power learning and citizenship merits that discussion.
  2. Capacity. Over and over again, Commissioner Rosenworcel has emphasized the importance of capacity goals as we look at how to improve the E-Rate program. Discounts have been given out based on income, but she’d like to see a way to prioritize need based not just on income but on the gap between current capacity and the needed bandwidth. She feels strongly that 100 Megabits per 1000 students is a goal to strive for, and perhaps, by the end of the decade, a goal of a Gigabit of bandwidth to every school. We need the capacity to support the digital learning that has so much potential to improve outcomes for students.
  3. Public/private partnerships. This really is all about scale. The new and improved E-Rate 2.0 needs to support and encourage partnerships that benefit everyone, from telecom providers to small, rural school districts.
  4. Simplification. I don’t think anyone denies that the program, which requires six different applications every year, needs to be simplified (and put online!) There is a lot of discussion about multi-year applications and more room for consortia. The FCC will need input on exactly what that process should look like and how to get it right. It would also be helpful for the FCC to hear about current data collection and how the E-Rate data collection process can be integrated into existing processes.

Every time I have the opportunity to be a part of this conversation, I feel like education in the United States is truly on the cusp of an incredible opportunity. For the last two years, I’ve witnessed amazing transformations in teaching and learning brought about by dedicated teachers and leaders and the power of technology. I am convinced that, as Gov. Bob Wise says, it is the “force multiplier” we need to provide the best educational opportunity to every student and particularly those six million students at risk of dropping out. But access to broadband and access to devices is still a major barrier in far too many schools. We may just have one chance to get this right. I urge everyone to visit our new website (soon to be revamped!) at www.99in5.org. The goal: to ensure that 99 percent of schools have access to high-speed broadband in the next five years. Watch a few videos. Share them with your friends, colleagues, family, neighbors. Join our campaign. Send us your thoughts on how E-Rate can be improved. Read the FCC resources and consider your own comments. And spread the word. This is something we all have a stake in, and we can all make it happen if we work together.

At the same time, all the dollars towards broadband in the world won’t help students if districts fail to engage in thoughtful, strategic planning on how to use digital resources to achieve their goals of college and career readiness for all students. That’s why the Alliance, just six months ago, launched Project 24. If your district hasn’t done so, take the self-assessment and evaluate how your planning is going in our seven gears: teaching/professional learning, curriculum and instruction, data and assessment, infrastructure and technology, use of time, academic supports, and budget and resources. Explore our webinars, videos, blog posts, and other resources on each of these gears and use them to refine or redefine your strategic plans. Because when that opportunity to upgrade your broadband becomes available, you need to be ready to make the most of it to transform teaching and learning for all students.

Terri Schwartzbeck is a Senior Digital Outreach Associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Join the discussion on Twitter by following @99in5 and @All4EdProject24. You can also find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/99in5 and https://www.facebook.com/NationalDigitalLearningDay.

 

Digital Learning Series
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E-Rate

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