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E-Rate Report: Speed Problems Linger

in Broadband Data/Education/FCC/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON – A widely supported program intended to subsidize internet access for schools and libraries continues to fall short of its goals, according to a recent report from the Federal Communications Commission.

The E-Rate program offers subsidies for schools and libraries to obtain broadband connectivity, but due to administrative hurdles most recipients respondenting to an FCC survey claim that their connections fail to meet their needs.  Nearly half of respondents have average connection speeds of under 10Mbps. While most residential consumers’ connection speed averages 10-12Mbps, when the connection is shared amongst a large number of users in a computer lab each individual is able to obtain only a fraction of that speed. This consideration becomes especially pertinent as schools and libraries access more video content.

A primary reason preventing the entities from obtaining their preferred level of broadband is the cost, a problem that the FCC looks to solve by increasing overall funding to the program. The percent of respondents that are unable to access an existing broadband network, however, is down to 15 percent, the lowest level since the FCC began monitoring broadband access through the E-Rate program.

Rural respondents, however, still have the largest issue with access to broadband. Rural respondents who receive low levels of funding from the E-Rate program are less likely to obtain access compared to their better-funded rural counterparts. Conversely, urban respondents in the same low level of funding do not face a similar access problem.

One of the major limiting factors for recipients in obtaining more funding is the complexity of the program’s structure and administration. In an effort to streamline the submission process, the FCC issued the Sixth Report and Order in December 2010. The Order will simplify portions of the program’s application form and extend the deadline for submission.

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Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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