A panel of administrators, industry representatives and education policy analysts met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., in August to discuss the National Broadband Plan, and among other recommendations urged the commission to increase funding for the E-rate program. The annual budget for E-rate, the 1996 federal initiative that provides funding to schools toward the cost of installing Internet connections, has remained unchanged at $2.25 billion for over a decade.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) charged the FCC, led by newly appointed chairman Julius Genachowski, with creating a national broadband plan by February 17, 2010, that “shall seek to ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability and shall establish benchmarks for meeting that goal.” To that end, the FCC has held dozens of workshops in six content areas to discuss broadband adoption with experts in each field.
The August education workshop panel included Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer of the Calcasieu Parish (La.) School System, who also represented the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). “E-rate has had a substantial impact on delivering broadband to schools. ? It should have a major role in the forthcoming broadband plan,” she testified, adding that “changes need to be made” and recommending raising the budget to $4 billion. Panelist Tom Greaves of education consulting firm the Greaves Group agreed, characterizing the current state of school broadband access as “a crisis” and recommending a budget increase to “$6 billion or even $8 billion.”
The panel is not alone in its assessment. A March report by the Government Accountability Office found that requests for E-rate funding from 1998 to 2007 “consistently exceed[ed] the cap” and that applicants requested a total of $41 billion—174 percent of the $23.4 billion in funding available during the decade.
To follow the development of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, go to www.broadband.gov.