National Broadband Plan: E-Rate changes are welcome news

National Broadband Plan: E-Rate changes are welcome news

Summary: As more details of the FCC's National Broadband Plan emerge, it looks as though the antiquated E-rate rules that prevent many schools from sharing their Internet access with their communities will be changing. E-Rate, a program that subsidizes large percentages of Internet access for schools and libraries in poor and rural communities, is slated for "tweaking" under the plan.

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As more details of the FCC's National Broadband Plan emerge, it looks as though the antiquated E-rate rules that prevent many schools from sharing their Internet access with their communities will be changing. E-Rate, a program that subsidizes large percentages of Internet access for schools and libraries in poor and rural communities, is slated for "tweaking" under the plan.

As described on ABCNews.com,

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to let schools that get money from the federal E-Rate program offer community members use of their Internet connections.

The program, which also funds Internet access in libraries, had required schools to use the Web connections only for educational purposes. But that meant they went largely unused at night, over weekends and during breaks.

This brings up an interesting question, though: The Internet may be usable by the community, but who will pay to keep schools open for the community to access the resources? Depending upon how the rules actually get rewritten, this leaves open one heck of a possibility. As powerful WiFi transmission gets cheaper, schools could become neighborhood hotspots in under-served communities. They could also become hubs to which community centers could link via fiber or copper connections, providing free Internet access to YMCAs, senior centers, and housing projects.

Will the FCC build in some rules to prevent this really direct benefit to communities from the high-speed access that E-Rate makes affordable at many schools? Probably. However, allowing schools and communities to be really creative in the way they use their E-Rate-funded broadband could put the country much closer to the ambitious goals outlined by the FCC.

Topics: Broadband, Networking

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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9 comments
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  • Maybe, but...

    It may happen. There are a number of challenges. The Comission still has to submit the plan for final review. The politics at that juncture could prove ugly....
    doug.hanchard@...
  • who will pay to keep schools open for the community to access the resources

    The tax payer of course. But the dumbasses will think it is those kind politicians giving their largesee. SO the politicians can keep buying their offices with other peoples money. Taking it out of the system and redistributing it. Our "Communications surcharges" on our cell phone bills already pay for the "poor" cell phones. Enough handouts already!
    Albee_Freeoneday
    • They're already open

      Maybe our area is unusual, but all the local high schools around here offer continuing education classes to the community, including classes that use the Internet. Now that use will be expressly allowed.
      Dr.Dan
  • This'll help us out in rural areas

    My house is in a rural area:
    - Cable TV won't connect to us - too few houses per cable mile.
    - Too far away from telco switch (15,000 ft) for DSL.
    - Not interested in satellite, equipment $$, latency.
    - Holding my breath for 4G/LTE/WiMax.

    There's an elementary school 1.5 miles from me - I could pick up WiFi from there using a parabolic dish.

    Bring it on!!
    wbrodyjr
  • RE: National Broadband Plan: E-Rate changes are welcome news

    all polotics these days, sadly, are ugly! Washington is truly the headquarters for a broken political system
    fdrsys@...
  • Mixed thoughts

    The other issue to think about would be the cost of the equipment and maintenance to offer such a service. For one, I would need to invest in equipment that would allow me to segregate these "Guest" users from our school network.
    neomaraj
  • RE: National Broadband Plan: E-Rate changes are welcome news

    Just because the FCC says it's so doesn't mean that a schools are required. As long as it's an option then I don't see any problems with it.

    In our community we have an after school program that is ran by our City Government. While they teach our kids and those of other non-public schools which qualify, they are not a recognized education organization and thus are not allowed to use the connections when we aren't using it. We've tried several ways and every time we are denied.

    Now if they would allow us to share the after discount cost back to the third party that would be even better for all.
    chris@...
    • Share the cost

      You can charge the city gov't for use of the room, and for use of the computers. Throw in the Internet access for free, and everybody's happy.
      Dr.Dan
  • RE: National Broadband Plan: E-Rate changes are welcome news

    We are a public charter school system in Houston that serves the most disadvantaged kids in the Houston metro area (our entire district is 90% Erate discount). We want to use technology to engage our kids on a deep level outside of campuses but every great idea has been stopped cold by access to broadband Internet access in our student's homes. We have discovered that most of our students do have access to a computer at home, but do not have Internet access. Most of our kids homes do not even have POTS lines (our communities primarily use pre-paid cellular for communication). Over the past year we have been hard at work trying to figure out a way to provide this access to our students. Until this recent change with Erate rules, we were evaluating providing CIPA compliant access to the local community via wireless mesh (a potential partnership with the EE students of a local University) and preparing to get in trouble when Erate eventually audited us (along the principle of not letting the law get in the way of doing the right thing). We have already tested the technology and are prepared to build the infrastructure to support it without any Erate funding at all (we only need Erate approval for the access circuits, not the equipment and management).

    Now we can move forward with this plan! Sort-of....

    Why is Erate only allowing us to share our Internet pipes outside of school hours? What if one of our students is home sick and still wants to participate in class? What about parent access and many other legitimate daytime needs? We have Saturday school, longer daily school hours, and are almost a year round school already (just over one month for summer). So am I limited to Sunday's and late at night?

    This is just silly.
    rcharlesworth@...