FCC Releases E-rate Modernization Order, FNPRM

On July 23, the FCC released its E-rate Modernization Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM), which adopts a number of the proposals made in its NPRM and begins the process of re-focusing the E-rate program on providing the necessary support to ensure the nation's schools and libraries have affordable access to high-speed broadband.

A fundamental step taken in the order is to overhaul the support system for internal connections, including the deployment of high-speed Wi-Fi in classrooms and libraries nationwide. The FCC said that “[b]y modernizing the E-rate program to expand schools and libraries access to more predictable E-rate funding that is sufficient to meet their needs for Wi-Fi connectivity, and other internal broadband connections.“ The FCC also adopted three goals designed to maximize the benefits of the E-rate program, which are:

  • Ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband sufficient to support digital learning in schools and robust connectivity for all libraries
  • Maximizing the cost-effectiveness of spending for E-rate supported purchases
  • Making the E-rate application process and other E-rate processes fast, simple and efficient

Other updates to the program, aimed at furthering these goals, include:

  • Setting an annual funding target of $1 billion for funding for internal connections needed to support high-speed broadband within schools and libraries
  • Testing a more equitable approach to funding internal connections for applicants who seek support in funding years 2015 and 2016
  • Reorienting the E-rate program to focus on supporting high-speed broadband by phasing down support for voice services and eliminating support for other legacy services

The FCC’s order also includes transparency measures to encourage sharing of cost and connectivity data; encourage consortia purchasing; and emphasizes that providers must offer the lowest corresponding price.

In conjunction with this order, the FCC issued an FNPRM to seek further comment on meeting the future funding needs of the E-rate program in light of the goals it adopted for the program. Specifically, the FCC is asking for input on whether multi-year contracts are efficient, how to ensure the efficient use of NSLP data, how best to calculate the amount of funding eligible libraries need in order to purchase Wi-Fi networks and other internal connections, and other additional improvements that could be made to the E-rate program.