The FCC has adopted a Report and Order that modernizes the schools and libraries universal service support mechanism – the E-Rate program – to widely support robust Wi-Fi networks in the nation’s schools and libraries. According to the FCC, the reforms will expand Wi-Fi to more than 10 million students in 2015. The Report and Order makes available an additional $2 billion to support Wi-Fi over the next two years from existing reserve accounts and improved financial management practices. After that, the reforms will target $1 billion annually to Wi-Fi by phasing out support for non-broadband services, such as pagers and phones, and through increased efficiencies. Overall, the FCC expects the Report and Order to accomplish the following three goals:
- Significantly expand funding for Wi-Fi networks and distribute it fairly to all schools and libraries while recognizing the needs of the nation’s rural and poorest school districts;
- Maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-Rate spending through greater pricing transparency, encouraging consortia and bulk purchasing, and better enforcement of existing rules; and
- Streamline and simplify the E-Rate application process and overall program administration.
An accompanying Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on long-term E-Rate program funding needs necessary to meet goals and funding targets established in the Report and Order; further steps to facilitate the use of cost-effective consortium-based purchasing; and alternative methodologies for allocating E-Rate support for library Wi-Fi connectivity. Other issues that were part of the FCC’s E-Rate modernization Notice of Proposed Rulemaking remain open. The Report and Order passed on a 3-2 vote, with Republican Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissenting.