Uncle Sam Wants You to Comment on E-Rate

By Fletcher, Geoffrey H. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), September 2013 | Go to article overview

Uncle Sam Wants You to Comment on E-Rate


Fletcher, Geoffrey H., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Want more funding for broadband? Now's your chance to let the FCC know what you need and why.

My name is Geoff and I'm a policy geek. I have just read through the 100 single-spaced pages (that's 339 paragraphs) of the mind-numbing, footnote-laced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the E-Rate. This proposed "modernization of the E-Rate" is the cornerstone of the presidents ConnectED program, and it addresses all aspects of the E-Rate in an incredibly comprehensive way. You should take note of the NPRM, because you can have a say in whether the E-Rate has more money put into it, how that money might be distributed, and how the program operates and is administered. The potential for you to have an impact on one of the most vital components of infrastructure for education is enormous.

SETDA believes that for most states and districts: 1) demands for more broadband for learning are growing beyond schools' ability to provide it; 2) broadband access is necessary to meet school reform and improvement goals and improve learning for all students; 3) the E-Rate program needs to be simplified and better targeted to school need; and 4) more funding is required to meet these needs.

When it comes to revising the E-Rate program, all the proverbial stars are aligned. As Michael Steffen, director of digital learning at the FCC, told SETDA members on a call, "We are at a special moment in education technology and the possibilities that it creates. That idea has created enthusiasm for really pushing on this issue in the near term ... all the way up to the president of the United States, but also the chair of our oversight committee in the Senate, the secretary of education, the leadership here at the commission, all the commissioners are very engaged in this. That confluence of things doesn't happen that often."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

So let's all take advantage of this celestial miracle and let the FCC know what schools want. And the way to do that is through the NPRM, whose purpose is to solicit feedback on the E-Rate.

In other words, how the public--which includes you, other educators in your district, your state officials, the telecommunications earners, and all the suppliers of products and services that are affected by the E-Rate--responds to the NPRM in general (as well as some specific questions) will determine the future of the E-Rate. And you do not have to geek out like I did and read the full 100 pages to respond.

After listening between the lines on our member call with Steffen, as well as talking with people around the country, I can tell you the kinds of information that the FCC wants to hear from you.

General Information

* Data is key. The FCC would love to hear detailed data about what technology connects each school (copper, fiber, microwave, and so forth), the speeds going up and down, what you are paying for telecommunications services, where you stand with internal connectivity, and if the internal connectivity is wired or wireless. The more granular and the more complete your data, the better. If the FCC can get a good cross-section of districts around the country providing this data, that will go a long way toward establishing a baseline.

* Examples of teaching and learning are crucial. Steffen admitted that the folks at the FCC are not digital learning experts, so they need to know what is going on with digital learning in your school or district. This will help them build the case that we are at a critical moment for learning and we have to make the necessary investments in infrastructure to get us there.

If your teachers are using primarily digital content in their classes, if you have x percent of your students taking online or blended learning classes, if your school has flipped instruction and/or your teachers are spending an average of an hour a day searching the internet for videos and other content to use with kids or their own professional development, tell the FCC about it If you can link your examples to specific data about the trends in bandwidth usage that you have seen in your district over the past few years, so much the better. …

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