Funds For Learning Makes Case for Translating Vision to Action in E-rate Reform

8/15/2013 12:00:00 AM

Stakeholders analyze the costs of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative and explain the economic and moral imperatives driving E-rate reform.

Edmond, Okla. (August 15, 2013) – Funds For Learning®, the nation’s largest E-rate compliance services firm, briefed the media this week on President Obama’s ConnectED initiative and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent E-rate Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). John D. Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning, and Dr. Sheryl Abshire, CTO of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, analyzed projected costs associated with ConnectED and explained how a modernized E-rate program is essential for schools’ success.

Harrington and Abshire underscored the importance of timely, yet measured, reform policies. “This is not something that we can spend two years examining with a blue ribbon commission,” said Harrington of current E-rate changes penned in the FCC’s NPRM. “These are changes that need to be implemented wisely but quickly in order to really impact education.”

Through the ConnectED initiative, Mr. Obama aims to connect 99 percent of U.S. students to high-speed broadband Internet access within five years. Shortly after ConnectEd was announced, the FCC released an NPRM, which is the first step in updating the federal E-rate funding program. According to Funds For Learning, around 52.2 million students and more than 113,000 schools in the U.S. rely on E-rate funding to finance vital connectivity and communication services.

Harrington said that while the vision of reform is easy to understand, translating that vision to action is more challenging. Although Internet and telecom funding requests have tripled, the E-rate program has not seen significant updates in more than 15 years. Under the current program, 47 percent of schools expect to lose E-rate support for Internet in 2014, increasing to 71 percent in 2015. In a 2012 survey of E-rate applicants conducted by Funds For Learning, 90 percent of respondents indicated their schools were not “ready for tomorrow.”

“A room full of students staring at a ‘waiting to load’ dialog box is unacceptable,” said Harrington. “Reliable Internet access should be as ubiquitous as electricity is in our schools today.”

Observers have also noted the issue of cost. Funds For Learning estimates network and connectivity upgrades necessary to adequately connect U.S. schools would cost billions, given current pricing models. Raising the E-rate funding cap could happen in a number of ways, according to Harrington.

First, the FCC could reallocate unused funding from other Universal Service Fund programs. This action would avoid increased consumer fees. The second option would mean raising fees solicited from consumer phone bills. The FCC could also implement rule changes that encourage more cost-effective purchasing strategies. Harrington said he believes the final solution will end up being some combination of the three approaches.

What is clear, according to Abshire, is the need for E-rate reform. “We’re applauding the President’s ConnectED initiative,” said Abshire. “We’re waiting hopefully for the FCC and all of our colleagues around the country to comment and bring light to these issues … so that we can satisfy the promise of a quality education for every student, no matter where they live in this country, no matter their economic status and no matter their learning style.”

For more information about E-rate reform, click here. Public comments on the NPRM are due to the FCC by September 16.

About Funds For Learning

Funds For Learning, LLC, is an E-rate compliance firm specializing in guiding E-rate applicants through the E-rate regulatory process and is an advocate for the use of educational technologies and student Internet access. Formed in 1997, Funds For Learning provides professional advice and assistance relating to the E-rate program to clients in all 50 states. For more information, visit www.FundsForLearning.com or phone 405-341-4140.

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