WASHINGTON, September 24, 2010 - The Federal Communications Commission has decided to allow the E-rate program to subsidize more than basic internet service.
The program, which currently allows for libraries and schools to obtain government funding to subsidize telecom funding, has been under fire due to the difficulty of the application and complex method in which the funds are distributed.
“The FCC’s E-rate order will help bring affordable, super-fast fiber connections to America’s schools and libraries. It allows participants to use E-rate funds to connect to the Internet in the most cost-effective way possible, including via unused fiber optic lines already in place across the country and through existing state, regional and local networks,” according to the FCC.
The new order also creates the School Spots program allowing schools to become hotspots for the local community. This can include the creation of open public labs or simply broadcasting Wi-Fi.
The new Learning On the Go pilot program is geared toward college campuses and will allow for support for mobile learning devices. With the increasing popularity of eBook readers and digital textbooks, this program will allow for the partial subsidization of pilot programs.
The "order is fundamentally about empowering schools and libraries. It gives schools and libraries more choices for broadband, enabling them to pick among the full range of options in the marketplace, including leasing low-cost capacity from fiber optic networks that have already been deployed but are not yet being used, and lighting this dark fiber," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The order received full support from Genachowski and commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn while Commissioner Robert McDowell dissented in part. While Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker agreed with McDowell’s dissent, she also supported the expansion of E-rate to include broadband.
McDowell opposed the new provision that increased the funding cap and indexed it to inflation. Additionally, he dissented to providing additional funding for wireless internet support. “I do however dissent from the part of the Report and Order that establishes a trial program to support wireless Internet access offsite. I recognize that putting wireless technologies into the hands of students and teachers can be a powerful and exciting way to supplement our education system. Nonetheless, I am concerned that opening up this new spending line item may be far beyond what Congress originally intended when it mandated subsidies for the wiring of schools and libraries to the Internet. Myriad questions abound that should be addressed in a further notice before launching such a trial. “
“These developments could ultimately bring more money to our libraries, which means better services for the public; however, in order to maximize these benefits, applicants need swift guidance from the FCC on the implementation of these rules,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association's Washington office.