Equity & Diversity

E-Rate Requests for High-Speed Internet Connections Keep Growing

By Benjamin Herold — September 15, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The country’s schools and libraries continue to thirst for more bandwidth, according to a new analysis of 2016 applications to the federal E-rate program by Oklahoma-based consulting group Funds for Learning.

Two big figures from the group’s new report jump out: Requests for subsidies to help pay for high-speed, 1 Gigabit-per-second-or-faster Internet connections have more than doubled since last year. And 90 percent of applicants to the program expect their bandwidth needs will increase over the next three years, with nearly one-fourth saying it will at least double.

“It’s clear that schools and libraries are jumping on the broadband train,” said Funds for Learning CEO John Harrington.

The group will present its full findings of its new “2016 E-Rate Trends Report” to the Federal Communications Commission today. The study is based on analysis of publicly available application data through September 2, 2016.

Originally created in 1996, the E-rate program has paid out over $30 billion to help schools and libraries cover the cost of telecommunications services. Two years ago, the FCC overhauled the program, raising its annual spending cap to $3.9 billion, prioritizing support for broadband and Wi-Fi networks over older technologies, and mandating better public reporting of price and service information, among other changes.

Although some researchers have begun to question whether big investments in school broadband infrastructure yields student achievement gains, a wide swath of school, technology, and civil-rights groups have cheered the reforms.

In 2015, during the first E-rate cycle after the changes took place, the program saw a huge jump in demand for internal wireless connectivity, as well as a greater proportion of applicants receiving such support. For many districts, the tradeoff was decreased support for telephone and voice services.

This year, there was a huge focus on faster connections, Funds for Learning found. More than 24,000 applicants sought a total of $2.3 billion for data and Internet service, with the greatest number of requests coming for 1Gbps or faster connections. While the demand for wireless network equipment (such as routers and switches) continued, many applicants responded to Funds for Learning’s survey by saying that the current price cap of $150 per student (implemented to ensure that more applicants get some money) is not enough to allow them to fully meet their needs.

Declining E-rate support for voice services also remains a concern.

“The FCC is the only one that wants voice discounts to fade away,” Harrington said. “It is by far the one service that everyone wants back in the program.”

Also of interest: 12 percent of applicants took advantage of the new E-rate’s “self-provisioning” option, through which schools and libraries can request federal support to build their own broadband networks, if they can’t find an affordable option on the private market. In Funds for Learning’s survey, half of those who did so reported that doing so had led to lower prices.

As part of its 2014 overhaul of the E-rate, the FCC decided to allow self-provisioning, despite many objections from the telecom industry. Last year, Education Week chronicled the story of the public school district in Calhoun County, Miss., which took advantage of the new rule to finally win its years-long fight to break out of a deal in which it was billed $9,275 a month for Internet service so slow teachers couldn’t even use their computers to take attendance.

“Applicants are open to [self-provisioning], but no one is rushing in yet,” Harrington said. “Forty-three percent say they don’t want the headache of managing their own network.”

Map of 2016 E-rate applicants by Funds for Learning.

See also:

for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty