Schools will be allowed to use federal E-rate funding to extend Internet service to communities, seek out faster connections through unused fiber networks, and vie for federal money to support mobile-learning programs, under changes to the program that were approved last week.
The changes, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, include indexing the program’s $2.25 billion annual funding cap for inflation, the first update to the cap since the program—which provides schools and libraries with discounted Internet access—was established in 1997.
A separately adopted FCC measure frees vacant airwaves between TV channels, or “white spaces,” to host technologies such as far-reaching “super Wi-Fi” signals, which could help strengthen school connections, particularly in rural regions.
The mobile-learning provision may be the most interesting to school technology directors, who are increasingly exploring ways to utilize mobile learning. Currently, mobile devices purchased through the program must remain on campus after hours. The revision creates a pilot program that may offer selected programs money to support the use of school-issued mobile devices after school hours if the programs applying for the aid can prove the devices contribute to student learning.
“There are issues to address as we move forward,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “But starting with a pilot program that will encourage schools to compete for funding to develop programs that work ... is exactly what we should do in an environment where mobile connectivity is becoming so important.”
Other revisions approved by the fcc include allowing schools to use E-rate funding to extend Internet service to their communities in after-school hours, a recommendation from the commissions National Broadband Plan, which was released in March.
A version of this article appeared in the September 29, 2010 edition of Education Week as FCC Expands Options for Using E-Rate Funds