For more than 25 years, educators have relied on the E-Rate program to help them fund internet access and internal connections. With the established E-Rate program1, schools have been eligible for discounts ranging from 20% to 90% of the costs of eligible services, depending on the level of poverty and the urban / rural status at the school district level.
Specifically, the standard E-Rate program covers on-site:
But after more than two years of online, hybrid and classroom learning, many school administrators may be asking themselves:
“Outside the school buildings — that’s the E-Rate frontier that needs to be broken through,” said David Jacobson, chief technology information officer of the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District in Texas. “We need creative ways to get internet access to students where traditional ways have not been effective, and we need those connections to be eligible for E-Rate funding.”
In response, the FCC is considering changes to the traditional E-Rate program to include additional products and services for use by students, school staff and library patrons at locations other than a school. The FCC has already sent a draft ruling directing the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau to include funding Wi-Fi on buses in establishing E-Rate eligible services for the upcoming funding year.2
School districts may be wondering whether they will still need remote or hybrid learning moving forward and how they will fund these programs. Many students suffered as much as a year of learning loss and have remained behind since resumption of in-class learning.1 Technology and connectivity for education and remote learning is more important than ever before to mitigate the learning loss and enable new learning opportunities where connectivity is needed.
Many believe remote learning will remain a vital resource for students to catch up during supplementary hours, vacation time and the summer — and will become a permanent educational tool.
“Education needed a change, and the pandemic forced that change to a blended learning style. Kids should be in classrooms,” Jacobson said. “But there’s an awful lot they can do and learn outside the classroom through virtual learning that will help maximize time in the classroom with teachers and also allow them to do all sorts of virtual learning activities that aren’t necessarily possible in the classroom.”
To improve connectivity and security, some school districts are considering working with a cellular company to build a private LTE network. This would include building cell towers on district land where providers would not otherwise construct because of low population in the area. E-Rate program funds may assist in this construction. The FCC has sought comments on whether funds should support fixed or mobile wireless towers.3
“We’ve considered that. Everyone would go through our LTE network, so it’s our program, our management, our content filters. Telecommunications providers would help outlying communities connect to our district’s network,” Jacobson said. “The key is making that ‘e-ratable’ because now we’re providing internet access outside our campuses, schools and district buildings. That’s the big next step the FCC needs to take with E-Rate to make that possible.”
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has long supported finding ways to provide internet access to students outside of the school building. “We need to get to work to update E-Rate funding so all our students can be connected to virtual classrooms, no matter who they are or where they live,” said Rosenworcel.4
A cellular partner with experience assisting school districts can serve as the enablement arm to help guide you through the often-complicated E-Rate acquisition process.
Look for a partner that provides:
UScellular® works with school districts in both urban and rural settings to connect students to the Internet, through secure private networks, mobile hotspots, connected devices, cloud-based communications and local expert guidance. We also provide an E-Rate specialist on hand to answer your questions and guide you through the arduous application process.
Are you ready to see if you are taking advantage of all the E-Rate offerings? Set up a no-commitment consultation with our Education Funding and E-Rate Team to uncover potential gaps in your application process. Let's connect.