Special update on E-Rate and broadband: FCC considers cap on Universal Service Fund

As we noted in an earlier post, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing an overall cap on Universal Service Fund (USF) revenue and a sub-cap on USF allocations to the E-Rate and Rural Health Care programs. We are concerned these actions could potentially damage these important programs, and especially E-Rate.

The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on its proposal, which could force the four programs funded under USF, including E-Rate, to battle each other for funds. The FCC is calling for comments by a July 15 deadline with reply comments due thirty days later. This is an especially tough deadline for schools to meet, as most are out for the summer and, chances are, few teachers and administrators are focused on federal policy making.

The  WASB is working with the National School Boards Association (NSBA) on developing  sample comments school leaders can use as well as “how-to” information on submitting comments electronically.  Last week, the NSBA  joined other organizations calling for an extension of time for comments until September so teachers, librarians, and other educators currently on summer break can respond to the NPRM.  Stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, your district can begin to prepare by identifying the ways E-Rate benefits your district and what opportunities your district could lose if the E-Rate program were capped.

If you or your district wishes to file your own comments and don’t need help from the WASB:

  • Comments may be filed electronically using the Internet by accessing the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS): https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/   [Click on the “Submit a Filing” tab and enter the docket number (06-122) Universal Service Contribution Methodology.]
  • Comments may also be filed by paper copy. Commenters who choose to file by paper must file an original and one copy of each filing. Filings can be sent by first-class or overnight U.S. Postal Service mail addressed to Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary, Federal Communications Commission, Office of the Secretary, 445 12th St., SW, Room TWA325, Washington, DC 20554.

The E-Rate program is a highly successful program that plays a vital role in aiding schools and libraries to connect to high-speed broadband that is important for learning in today’s modern world.  Eligible schools and libraries may receive discounts on telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access, as well as internal connections, managed internal broadband services and basic maintenance of internal connections.  These E-Rate discounts help schools and libraries in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. obtain affordable telecommunications services and Internet access.

E-Rate is an especially invaluable tool for many under-served areas ranging from small rural school districts to low-income urban areas. Discounts range from 20 to 90 percent, with higher discounts for higher poverty and rural schools and libraries.  Recipients must pay some portion of the service costs.

In Wisconsin, E-Rate also funds the successful TEACH program for schools.