IT Infrastructure

Tech. Advances Prompt Proposed Changes for E-Rate Rules

FCC Asking for Public Comment on Federal Telecommunications Aid
By Andrew Trotter — August 29, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions

The federal E-rate program, which provides financial support for telecommunications in schools and libraries, faces a new round of tweaks by its congressionally appointed overseer, the Federal Communications Commission, to bring the program up to date with technological advances.

In a “notice of proposed rulemaking,” or NPRM, published Aug. 19 in the Federal Register, the FCC has invited comment on a slate of topics that could lead to changes to the 11-year-old program, which was launched in 1997. Close observers of the “education-rate,” the largest federal program to help schools pay for technology, say the FCC is trying to update the program to address technological advances such as text messaging, advanced network firewalls, anti-virus or anti-spam software, telephone broadcast messaging, and wireless Internet-access applications.

Classifying and reclassifying some telecommunications products and services is likely to redirect some portion of the $2.25 billion in discounts awarded annually by the Universal Services Administrative Corp., which manages the E-rate, to new types of technology. As it is, discounts paid to vendors that do work for schools and are funded by telecommunications rate payers, run from 20 percent to 90 percent, depending on the school applicant’s poverty rate.

Major Items Under Review

“The NPRM is saying the FCC is acknowledging that the state of technology has changed in the past 11 years,” said John D. Harrington, the chief executive officer of Funds for Learning LLC, an Edmund, Okla., firm that advises school districts on the E-rate’s rules.

Observers said the FCC wants to help schools tap new technologies without exhausting the money available or giving some technologies an unfair advantage over others. They said the commission also aims to make its rules clearer and more streamlined to help participants and regulators do a better job guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse.

Decisions the FCC makes this fall about the E-rate program most likely will not take effect until the 2010 program year.

In one of the more significant items under review, the FCC is revisiting its decision two years ago to make eligible the fees schools pay for “interconnected VoIP service,” provided by companies such as Vonage, based in Holmdel, N.J., and Skype, based in Luxembourg, that use the Internet for local and long-distance phone calls. (“E-Rate to Support Wireless E-Mail, Internet Calling,” Nov. 15, 2006.)

The commission also wants feedback on its interpretation of a federal law requiring E-rate applicants to filter the Internet access provided in schools. The FCC’s reading of the law is that filters or filtering services are not themselves E-rate-eligible.

“There’s a lot of pressure from people, who say, ‘You make [filtering] mandatory, but you don’t let the E-rate fund it,’” said Winston E. Himsworth, the founder and executive director of E-rate Central, a Westbury, N.Y., firm that provides administrative services and consulting advice to about 175 E-rate applicants across the country. The firm also serves, under state contracts, as an E-rate coordinator, helping districts or librarians apply for E-rate assistance, in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Mr. Himsworth suggested that, if the FCC made filtering eligible, “you will probably find people putting in more robust filtering systems,” much like the improved highways that states have built with federal subsidies. He noted, though, that supporting advanced filtering would increase the costs to the program.

A decision on whether to expand the definition of basic telephone service to include T-1 lines and other relatively new technologies, another issue on the table, would be significant partly because the FCC does not require applicants for basic phone service to develop technology plans for how it would support the education of students. Such comprehensive planning, while valuable, is onerous for small districts that are not applying for Internet access, wiring, and other equipment, Mr. Himsworth said.

Also, dark fiber, or the extra, “unlit” strands of fiber-optic cable and associated equipment that are often installed for future expansion of computer networks, could potentially be reclassified as an eligible telecommunications service. If so, Mr. Harrington of Funds for Learning said, a district might save money by purchasing the use of dark fiber outright for its networks rather than buying more bandwidth from a telecommunications provider.

Initial comments about the proposed changes are due by Sept. 18; reply comments are due by Oct. 3.

A version of this article appeared in the September 03, 2008 edition of Education Week as Tech. Advances Prompt Proposed Changes for E-Rate Rules

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
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.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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

IT Infrastructure Privacy Group Cautions Schools on Technology That Flags Children at Risk of Self-Harm
Software that scans students’ online activity and flags children believed to be at risk of self-harm comes with significant risks, a new report warns.
6 min read
Conceptual image of students walking on data symbols.
Laura Baker/Education Week and Orbon Alija/E+
IT Infrastructure School Districts Seek Billions in New Federal Money for Connectivity, FCC Announces
The Federal Communications Commission received $5.1 billion in requests for new funding to purchase devices and improve internet access.
2 min read
Image shows two children ages 5 to 7 years old and a teacher, an African-American woman, holding a digital tablet up, showing it to the girl sitting next to her. They are all wearing masks, back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
IT Infrastructure School District Data Systems Are Messed Up. A New Coalition Wants to Help
Organizations representing states and school districts have teamed up with ISTE to help make data systems more user-friendly and secure.
3 min read
Conceptual collage of arrows, icon figures, and locks
Sean Gladwell/Moment/Getty
IT Infrastructure More Families Have Internet Access. So Why Hasn't the Digital Divide Begun to Close?
A new study says low-income families’ access to the internet has soared in the past six years. But there are other barriers to connectivity.
3 min read
Glowing neon Loading icon isolated on brick wall background. Progress bar icon.
Mingirov/iStock/Getty Images Plus