The E-Rate program has provided funds for public and private elementary and secondary schools to connect to the Internet at a discounted rate since 1996. E-Rate funding discounts 20 to 90 percent of the cost of certain services for schools and libraries to connect to the Internet and expand broadband services. A school’s discount is determined by the number of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, with a small additional discount given to eligible rural schools.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees E-Rate, has officially launched an effort to modernize the E-Rate program by releasing a wide-ranging Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in July, 2013. The NPRM covers issues ranging from E-Rate’s funding level, to the list of services eligible for discount and the application and program compliance process. Any interested stakeholder can formally submit comments to the FCC by October 16, 2013.
Input on the E-Rate program from the education community is critical because the FCC has the ability to approve programmatic changes to E-Rate, such as raising the program funding cap, through a majority vote of the FCC Commissioners. These changes do not require any Congressional action, which is welcome news in today’s political climate.