E-rate concerns rise in wake of net neutrality decision
- In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission's rollback of net neutrality, concerns are now rising that the agency could overhaul its federal E-rate program, which allows eligible schools and libraries to receive internet access at rates discounted as much as 90%, EdSurge reports.
- Experts' concerns about potential changes to E-rate largely land in the realm of modest changes in the short-term — though some, like New America, have suggested cuts could come to the funding available.
- State E-Rate Coordinators Alliance chair Gary Rawson suggested to EdSurge that some of the talk of a funding cap reduction could be the result of a difference in overall demand thus far compared with the current cap, but the funding dollars demanded could still increase upon the approval of applications still pending from 2016 and 2017.
Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who drove the agency's move to rescind net neutrality, has been notably more of a mixed bag on E-rate. His stance on the program has been largely positive, at one point telling Congress that he believes the program is "worth fighting for." But a report highlighting the program's success was reportedly withdrawn after he was named to head the agency. He also criticized the agency's modernization changes to the program in December 2014 as being "financially irresponsible" and not doing enough to help rural schools, suggesting bigger districts and those in urban areas would receive too large a portion of the funding.
If anything, that might suggest that the program could be retooled to place more focus on rural schools and districts. In the meantime, those in need of the funding should take advantage of what's available under the existing cap. It's also worth noting that E-rate still has a staunch proponent on the commission, like Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who previously argued in favor of its potential to further close the "homework gap" beyond expanding broadband access in schools.
Follow Roger Riddell on Twitter