FCC broadens school and library access to high-speed internet

As part of its effort to provide universal, high-speed Internet access to all citizens, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has modified the provisions of its E-rate program for schools and libraries.

The Commission’s E-rate program (formerly known as the Schools and Libraries Universal Service program) provides up to $2.25 billion annually to support telephone and Internet connections at schools and libraries across the country.  However, the Commission believes that high-speed broadband access is now essential to meet the speed and capacity needs of students, teachers and library patrons, and that the E-rate program emphasis on basic broadband access must be expanded to address that need.

Under the terms of a Report and Order issue in September 2010, the Commission’s modifications to the E-rate program include the following changes:

  • Schools and libraries will now be able to use E-rate funds to connect to the Internet in the most cost-effective way possible, including existing state, regional and local networks, as well as unused fiber optic lines already in place.
  • The cap on E-rate funding will now be indexed for inflation, with the additional funding coming from the Universal Service Fund.  This change will allow schools to meet the increased price tag for high-speed Internet service.
  • The process for educators and librarians to apply for E-rate funds will be streamlined.
  • A pilot program will be launched to support wireless Internet connectivity for mobile learning devices.
  • Schools will be given the opportunity to share their high-speed broadband Internet access with their local communities outside of school hours.

View the Commission’s Report and Order on its E-rate program modifications.