Schools will have the option to use E-rate funding to extend Internet access to their communities after hours, seek out “dark fiber” Internet connections, and vie for funds to support mobile-learning initiatives, according to changes to the program recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
The measure also includes indexing the program’s $2.25 billion annual funding cap for inflation, the first change to the cap since the program—which provides schools and libraries with discounted Internet access—was founded by Congress in 1997.
A separate measure passed at the Sept. 23 meeting that frees vacant airwaves between TV channels, or “white spaces,” to host technologies like “super Wi-Fi” could also affect schools, particularly in rural regions.
The mobile-learning provision may be of the most interest to school technology directors, who are increasingly exploring ways to weave mobile learning into their school programs. Currently, technology directors may only purchase mobile devices through the program if the mobile devices remain on campus. The revision creates a pilot program that may offer select programs funding to support the use of school-issued mobile devices after school hours, provided those programs applying for the funding can prove the devices will lead to increased achievement.
A version of this article appeared in the October 20, 2010 edition of Digital Directions as FCC Approves E-Rate Changes