FCC’s E-Rate program closes the Wi-Fi gap and opens up digital learning environments.
GUEST COLUMN | by Shane Buckley
Over the next several years, the education industry will see a major shift. The implementation of new standards, the move to next-generation assessments, the prevalence of individualized learning techniques and the affordability of mobile devices, technology and Wi-Fi laid the groundwork for a digital learning movement.
However, we are not on track to achieve the objective of a digital learning environment. According to the Education Superhighway survey, 72 percent of K-12 public schools in the U.S. still do not have sufficient Internet infrastructure to support digital learning.
The E-rate program not only modernizes education, it also closes the digital divide.
Today, schools across the country feel the pressure to embrace digital learning. To execute this successfully, teachers need a combination of technology and digital content to personalize instruction for their students in the classroom. This allows every student to learn at his or her own pace.
In December 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Second E-rate Modernization Order. The order made funding available for schools and libraries to purchase high-speed broadband connectivity, capable of delivering gigabit service over the next five years. The goal: to make digital learning a reality for every school, not just the ones that have the budget to make it possible.
By adding $1.5 billion in additional funds, this order brought the total amount to $3.9 billion – the largest amount that has ever been made available to K-12 schools in the history of the U.S. education program. While the media primarily focused on the $1.5 billion increase of funding, we would be remiss not to consider the program’s objectives. According to the FCC, E-rate will accomplish three major goals:
- Significantly expand funding for Wi-Fi networks and distribute it fairly to all schools and libraries while recognizing the needs of the nation’s rural and disadvantaged school districts.
- Maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate spending through greater pricing transparency, encouraging consortia and bulk purchasing, and better enforcement of existing rules.
- Streamline and simplify the E-rate application process and overall program administration.
Funding may be requested under two categories of service: services that distribute support to a school or library (e.g., telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access) and services that deliver Internet access within schools and libraries (e.g., internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections and managed internal broadband services). The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and school or library location, urban or rural, determines funding levels..
According to the FCC, three out of five schools in the U.S. lack the Wi-Fi needed to deploy digital learning tools. Moreover, half of school buildings have older, slower internal wiring, unable to carry data at today’s broadband speeds. When Wi-Fi improves in the classroom, connectivity increases, and teachers can enhance learning. Student satisfaction rises when libraries and study halls deploy scalable, Wi-Fi access. Additionally, when schools invest in more reliable school-wide Wi-Fi that require less network equipment, implementation and management costs reduce significantly. Implementing an upgradable robust Wi-Fi network provides a long lasting IT infrastructure that grows with digital learning innovations without the need to make additional investments replacing equipment.
The E-rate program not only modernizes education, it also closes the digital divide. It gives disadvantaged schools the funds to invest in a cost-effective, scalable Wi-Fi network and digital devices to make individualized learning possible. Many school districts are still unaware of the additional $1.5 billion that was made available in December. The application window for the 2015 funding year closes at midnight Thursday, February 26. The application window for 2016 will open up in September 2015.
Shane Buckley is CEO of Xirrus. If you are a school district looking calculate your funding eligibility or apply for funding, check out this resource center: http://erate.xirrus.com/ If you’re a school district looking to calculate your funds, check out this resource: http://eratewifi.xirrus.com/