Connect America Funds and Rural Schools
September 13, 2014
The Advocate, September 2014
An advocate’s work is never done. Take the FCC and the changes to the E-Rate. Last July, thanks to the many letters, phone calls and personal visits that many of you made, we were able to thwart what would have been some damaging long-term changes. But the work is not over. There are still details to be worked out and much education and clarification that needs to take place due to the new FCC order.
Those of you in rural communities need to pay particular attention. I recently sent a letter to FCC Chairman Wheeler and to the other Commissioners regarding the FCC’s inquiry into the need to establish appropriate broadband speeds to meet the needs of schools, especially in rural areas as it relates to the use of Connect America Funds. We want our rural schools to have access to broadband connectivity that is comparable to that of our urban and suburban colleagues. As the use of digital devices by more and more of our students and faculty increases, thus placing greater demand on having the appropriate broadband, we do not want our rural students to be “left behind” by virtue of a digital gap.
The FCC has set an expectation that eligible telecommunications carriers will offer broadband to rural schools “at rates that are reasonably comparable to offerings to (schools) in urban areas.” To the extent that the Connect America Fund continues to expand connectivity, it is vital that the FCC require CAF fund recipients to serve rural schools. That is significantly different from the current language that “urges” CAF recipients to confer with schools when planning network design of CAF-supported infrastructure. “Requiring” is a necessary step that complements the recent efforts to modernize the E-Rate program to better support the President’s ConnectED initiative in all of our schools. Those of you in rural areas are urged to contact your congressional representatives and have them communicate with the FCC commissioners the need to require, not urge.
And while you’re at it, you should also mention how important the E-Rate has become to serving the needs of your students. It is a substantial source of support for technology in our schools, especially given the reduction in technology aid in the education budget. Realizing the President’s goal to have most of our schools connected will require additional funding. Lifting the E-Rate cap is out of the question prior to the November elections since it would be labeled as a tax increase. Nevertheless, the reality is that our schools will need the additional support. We will continue to advocate on your behalf.