FCC Seeking Comments on Modernizing E-Rate

On July 23rd, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on the E-Rate program with the purpose to:

  • Ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to 21st century broadband that supports digital learning
  • Maximize the cost effectiveness of E-Rate funds
  • Streamline the administration of E-Rate funds.

In the NPRM, the FCC has posted 616 questions covering 350 topics. The FCC is seeking comments from the public over a broad range of issues that have the potential to fundamentally change the E-Rate program. The NPRM is structured by numbering the paragraphs, which are grouped by topics. Each topic is explained in the first paragraph and then followed by a series of questions which are designed to elicit comments that potentially will become recommendations the FCC will use to rewrite the rules for the E-Rate program.

To help facilitate the process, below are some suggested topics for which you might want to provide comments to the FCC. The questions that are listed are just a sample of the questions that are found in the NPRM paragraphs. They are to help you decide if it is an area you want to explore further and possibly provide comments to the FCC.

Funding

1.  Permanent increase in E-Rate funding – paragraph 172 (page 47)

Seeking comments on different approaches to refocusing or re-prioritizing funds, or adjusting the support levels for certain services, as well as other proposals that will reduce costs while better targeting support to help schools and libraries obtain the connectivity they need.

Goals and Measurements

1.  SETDA’s broadband recommendations – paragraphs 22-26 (page 10-11)

Seeking comments on adopting the SETDA target that schools have 100 Mpbs per 1,000 users, increasing to 1 Gbps per 1,000 users. Is this appropriate for all schools? How much capacity do schools currently use? How are schools’ bandwidth needs changing, particularly in those schools that have one-to-one device initiatives? Is this realistic in remote parts of the state?

2. Wireless bandwidth targets – paragraph 27 (page 12)

Seeking comments on adopting specific bandwidth targets for wireless connectivity within schools. Should all schools have internal wireless networks capable of supporting one-to-one devices? What should these standards be?

3. Should each school/district develop its own goals instead of program goals?

4. How to monitor or measure goal achievement – paragraph 31 (page 13)

Should E-Rate applicants be required to provide specific information about the bandwidth or speed for which they seek funding? Should that information be publicly available?

5. Place equipment in schools to measure performance – paragraph 34 (page 13)

Should schools be required to measure their network performance and if so, should E-Rate funds be made available for this equipment and should this information be made public?

Equitable Access

1. Modify the discount matrix – Paragraph 60 (page 19) and paragraphs 117-124 (pages 34-36)

Should the minimum percentage of matching funds be increased? For instance, should all participants be required to pay at least 20%? By increasing the minimum (Healthcare Connect funds are set at a 35% minimum), would this give participants an incentive to control the costs of the services? If the minimum is adjusted, how long should the phase-in period be? Also, what should be the maximum and minimum limit be?

2. Eligibility list paragraphs 65-66 (page 22)

The FCC is seeking comments on possible updates to the list of services eligible for support. They specifically seek comments on how they should approach voice services.

3. High capacity equipment – paragraph 84 (page 26)

Should the FCC focus funding on newer, high-capacity wireless routers which are needed to allow multiple simultaneous high-capacity connections in a classroom environment? Are there other equipment or services that are necessary for high-capacity broadband connections that should qualify for prioritized support?

4. Budget limits (per pupil, per building) paragraphs 135-140 (pages 39-41)

Should the FCC impose a per-student or per-building budget limit? If so, what should the limit be? Should there be exceptions for locations that are expensive to serve?

5. Should funding be prioritized for those who are farther from meeting the capacity goals?

6. Collapsing Priority 1 and 2 – paragraph 146 -147 (page 42)

Should there be a fundamental shift in the way the FCC prioritizes E-Rate support by eliminating the distinction between Priority 1 and Priority 2 services? If so, how would the FCC prioritize among funding requests to the extent they exceeded the funding cap? Are there other changes they could make to the prioritization of services?

Service Eliminations – Paragraphs 90-102 (pages 27-31)

Since the FCC is focusing on high-capacity broadband connectivity, they are seeking comments on how to modify the rules to accomplish this goal. They are first proposing to phase out support for a number of servcies (related to voice and non-educational use). They are wanting recommendations on how to phase this change into the process. Some of the services they are proposing to eliminate are paging, directory assistance, and also services that are simply components of voice-service such as custom calling features, inside wiring maintenance plans, call blocking, 800 number services, and text messaging. They are also considering eliminating email services, web hosting, and basic maintenance of internal connections.

Fiber Deployment:

1.  Funding for dark fiber – paragraphs 71-74 (pages 22-23)

Should the treatment of lit and dark fiber be more consistent? If so, should the FCC allow Priority 1 funding for modulating electronics that is necessary to light leased dark fiber? Should they provide Priority 1 support for special construction charges for leased dark fiber, as they do for leased lit fiber? Should they allow construction costs to be spread over multiple years? If so, what is the right number of years?

2. Building and owning the fiber – paragraphs 79-80 (page 25)

Are there circumstances under which it will be more cost effective for schools and libraries to build or purchase their own WAN rather than to lease a WAN? If so, they want to know if they should remove section 54.518 of their rules or should they amend that section to allow schools and libraries to purchase their own WANs under certain circumstances.

Miscellaneous

Streamline Applications – paragraph 224+

Should all applications be submitted online and all USAC notifications be provided electronically? If a school couldn’t submit an application online, should the USAC charge the school a small fee?

Competitive bidding – paragraph 202

Does the current competitive bidding process typically result in multiple competitive bids? Does this process address the needs of schools and libraries? What if only one service provider submits a bid? How can they ensure that prices for services are reasonable and do not waste scarce Universal Service funds?

Transparency – paragraph 191+

Should the USAC create a website where any American could easily look up the details of how any participant in the E-Rate program used its funds in any given year? How would this information be organized? Would this website provide useful information to parents? Would it create an incentive for districts to spend the funds wisely? They also are seeking comments on how best to increase the transparency of prices for E-Rate-supported services. Should they consider making bid responses public or at least accessible to other E-Rate applicants? Or, should they require schools and libraries to disclose the actual cost of a particular service (thus not disclosing every bid response)?

Planning for broadband implementation and Use – paragraph 217

Should schools and libraries seeking support for high-capacity broadband undergo a formal review and assessment of their broadband needs — both to the premises and within the premises? Should the FCC condition receipt of E-Rate funds on certain criteria for the broadband assessments, and if so, what should those criteria be? For example, should they require schools to plan for providing a device to every student or for a device to a small group of students? What about professional development? Who is in the best position to evaluate and, if necessary, approve these assessments and help schools close any gaps?

Wireless community hotspots – paragraphs 319+

Should schools be permitted to provide wireless hotspots to surrounding communities using E-Rate-supported services? Should they permit students and the general public to receive E-Rate-funded Internet access off-site through wireless hotspots?

CIPA – paragraph 271

What are the measures that schools and libraries are taking to comply with CIPA when they allow third-party devices to connect to their E-Rate-supported networks? What steps are schools and libraries taking to ensure that they are not violating CIPA when they provide portable, Internet-enabled devices that can be used off campus? They are specifically seeking comments on what devices are covered by CIPA.

Increasing consortium purchasing – paragraphs 179+

Should the FCC increase incentives or mechanisms for consortium purchasing? They want to know if the rules prevent or discourage participation by applicants who might otherwise join a consortium. How can they remove such barriers? Are there certain types of services that lend themselves better to consortium purchasing?

Remember:

This is just a sampling of the topics and the questions that the FCC is exploring. For a more thorough review, read the Notice for RuleMaking document.

Procedures to Submit Comments

The comments are due to the FCC by September 16, 2013. After the comments are submitted, the public will have a chance to review the comments and then have until October 16, 2013 to submit replies to the submitted comments.

All filing related to this NPRM shall refer to WC Docket No. 13-184. Comments may be e-filed using the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) or by filing paper copies.

  • Electronic Filers: Comments may be filed electronically using the Internet by accessing the ECFS.
  • Paper Filers: Parties who choose to file by paper must file an original and one copy of each filing.
  • Filings can be sent by hand or messenger delivery, by commercial overnight courier, or by first-class or overnight U.S. Postal Service mail. All filings must be addressed to the Commission’s Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission.
  • All hand-delivered or messenger-delivered paper filings for the Commission’s Secretary must be delivered to FCC Headquarters at 445 12th St., SW, Room TWA325, Washington, DC 20554. The filing hours are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All hand deliveries must be held together with rubber bands or fasteners. Any envelopes and boxes must be disposed of before entering the building.
  • Commercial overnight mail (other than U.S. Postal Service Express Mail and Priority Mail) must be sent to 9300 East Hampton Drive, Capitol Heights, MD 20743.
  • U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express, and Priority mail must be addressed to 445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.

About Jennifer Bergland

Director of Government Relations at the Texas Computer Education Association
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