The Current State of the E-Rate Program – Part II

How can schools provide broadband access to teachers and students?

In a recent podcast, I met with Kim Friends, vice president of CSM Consulting, Inc. This company provides a broad range of compliance and software solutions for school districts, offices of education, department of education, and other educational organizations. Kim shed some valuable insights into the E-Rate Program’s current limitations. We discussed how the proposed reform might change the program rules to enable applicants (school districts) to obtain the resources they need to provide students equal opportunities to learn from home – primarily broadband access.

The problem facing districts is that you’ve got to have full internet access to facilitate learning and teaching when implementing a virtual learning program. The FCC and schools acknowledge this problem, and as it stands right now, there is no change to the FCC rules that allow a school district to provide broadband internet access to a student or teacher’s home. Hopefully, that’s something that will be changing.

Changing E-Rate rules isn’t a simple process.

The FCC must go through formal rulemaking proceedings; they cannot make a rule change unless Congress authorizes them to do so. Now faced with urgency to solve this problem, school districts must rely on Congress to expedite any rule changes.

Typically, a formal rulemaking proceeding through the FCC can take anywhere from three to six months, which isn’t too helpful considering school will start in just a few weeks. Many schools have chosen a hybrid learning environment, combining some in-person teaching, social distancing, and virtual learning.  Some students will be learning from home while some will be attending school.

The current E-Rate rule doesn’t allow schools to deliver E-rate funded services outside of a school campus boundary. That’s limiting the school district’s options to bridge that homework gap and ensure equal opportunity for all students. Of course, for families that have access and can afford access – that’s no problem. However, there are plenty of rural students that the internet is simply not available to them at home – there just isn’t broadband in the area. Quickly solving these issues remains critical to districts everywhere that are trying to administer a distance learning environment.

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