The Federal Communications Commission released its fiscal 2016 budget request in February, calling for continued funding on delivering faster broadband speeds to schools and libraries, and Wi-Fi to support digital learning. The $338 million request reiterates performance goals for the nation’s E-rate program, which was modernized last year.
The E-rate program has provided discounts on telecommunications and Internet access for K-12 schools and libraries based on the poverty level and urban or rural state of the populations they served. But last year, the 18-year-old program phased out its telecommunications discounts so it can focus on broadband and Wi-Fi. In addition, the FCC increased the E-rate fund by $1.5 billion.
Besides the goal of continued funding for broadband and Wi-Fi, the FCC has called for maximizing the cost-effectiveness of spending for E-rate supported purchases and for making the E-rate application process fast, simple and efficient as possible with appropriate oversight.
In the 2016 budget, the commission seeks to transfer $25 million from the Universal Service Fund for the Office of Inspector General to provide additional oversight of the Universal Service programs, which incude E-rate.
Last year, the FCC adopted major changes to the E-rate program aimed at closing the digital divide for rural and poor students. Along with increasing the spending cap, the commission approved several measures to make it easier for schools and libraries to get broadband. These changes included:
Removing the multi-year amortization requirements for broadband build-out. Allowing multi-year payment of capital costs for broadband build-out. Equalizing the treatment of lit and dark fiber. Allowing the construction of applicant-owned fiber. Providing greater discounts if states offer matching funds for broadband build-out. Ensuring affordable broadband in rural, high-cost areas. The E-rate program improvements will target an additional $5 billion for Wi-Fi over the next five years, according to an FCC press release. The effort will potentially provide a 75 percent increase in Wi-Fi funding for rural schools over the next five years and a 60 percent increase for urban schools.