Jul 292013

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the world of E-Rate. On July 19, the FCC unanimously approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) designed to overhaul the E-Rate program. The move marks the first comprehensive update of the E-Rate program since its inception in 1997. Citing inadequate connection speeds – half of E-Rate applicants claim to have slower connection speeds than the average American home – the Commission stated that there is broad consensus that the E-Rate program needs to be updated and revitalized.

The Commission set forth three goals – increased broadband capacity, cost effective purchasing, and streamlined program administration – aimed at modernizing the E-Rate program and providing American schools affordable access to high-capacity broadband.

1. Increased Broadband Capacity: To ensure schools and libraries have affordable access to 21st century broadband, the NPRM seeks comment on a range of approaches to focus funds on high-capacity broadband, including:

• Simplifying rules on fiber deployment to lower barriers to new construction
• Prioritizing funding for new fiber deployments that will drive higher speeds and long-term efficiency
• Phasing out support for services like paging and directory assistance
• Ensuring that schools and libraries can access funding for modern high-speed Wi-Fi networks in classrooms and library buildings
• Allocating funding on a simplified, per-student basis

2. Cost-Effective Purchasing: To maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate purchases, the NPRM seeks comment on:

• Increasing consortium purchasing to drive down prices
• Creating other bulk buying opportunities and increasing pricing transparency
• Increasing transparency on how E-rate dollars are spent
• Improving the competitive bidding process
• Creating a pilot program to incentivize and test more cost-effective purchasing practices

3. Streamlined Program Administration: To streamline the administration of the E-rate program, the NPRM seeks comment on:

• Speeding review of E-rate applications
• Providing a streamlined electronic filing system and requiring electronic filing of all documents
• Increasing the transparency of USAC’s processes
• Simplifying the eligible services list and adopting more efficient ways to disburse E-rate funds
• Streamlining the E-rate appeals process

The NPRM also seeks comment on a variety of other issues, including:

• The applicability of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to devices brought into schools and libraries, and to devices provided by schools and libraries for at-home use
• Adjusting to changes to the National School Lunch Program that affect E-rate
• Additional measures for protecting the program from waste, fraud and abuse
• Wireless community hotspots

The full text of the NPRM was released last week and can be accessed at http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-launches-update-e-rate-broadband-schools-libraries. Comments are due on September 16, 2013 and reply comments are due on October 16, 2013. If you are interested in commenting on the NPRM or would like additional information, please contact us by clicking the “Visit Troy Law Group” link above.