Recently, we discussed an FCC program designed to bring high-speed Internet access to rural America. Now the commission updated its E-rate program, which once focused on older tech like phone lines, to better support relevant modern technologies like gigabit Internet. As part of these changes, the FCC added another $1.5 billion in funding to help bring faster Internet speeds to public schools and libraries.

How’s it Going to Work?

Funding for the E-rate program comes from the Universal Service Fund tax that you can see on your phone bill every month; the extra funding will amount to less than $2 per consumer per year. Schools and libraries can apply for E-rate funds, and with the increase in funding, the program has a total of $3.9 available this year. It stresses flexibility, allowing schools and libraries to purchase or even build the Internet plans that they find best for solving their needs. With a five-year budgeting plan, those groups that receive the funds can spread construction costs out over multiple years. E-rate even provides incentives for matching state funds, and specifically seeks to fund rural and Tribal schools and libraries where construction costs are often higher than in rural areas.

It’s possible, of course, that with that fixed amount available, not every group that applies for funding will receive it, or receive as much as they requested. So, by all means, make your local school administrators and librarians aware of the program so your community can benefit from it.

What’s the Goal?

An FCC press release describes “a fundamental reset” of the 18-year-old E-rate program with a view toward improving individual learning.

“Broadband is transforming 21st Century education and life-long learning,” the release says, and faster Internet speeds are necessary for digital learning applications.

Why Now?

The FCC notes that 63 percent of public school students, some 40 million, don’t have access to broadband networks. The commission states that one-to-one student to device ratios are “increasingly necessary,” but that 45 percent of public school districts lack the Wi-Fi capacity to do so. According to information provided to the FCC, 68 percent of all school districts in the country lack even a single school capable of meeting current high-speed networking targets. This lack of access is the “connectivity gap,” and closing it will put all students in a better position to succeed in their academics and careers later in life.

The FCC press release ends by stating, “While the cost to consumers of these changes to the E-rate program is small, the benefits to students, life-long learners, and the nation’s competitiveness are great.” Prepared students become prepared adults, and that preparation puts this country as a whole in a better position to maintain its status as a world leader in technology, engineering, and more.

You’re paying for it, so you should use it.

Encourage your local leaders to apply for program funds. Once you get a feel for the new gigabit Internet connection at your local library, we get the feeling that you’re going to want it for your own home.

Image by Steven Vance/Flickr


In the meantime, be sure to check out the different plans available in your area.

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