To shore up money for wireless broadband, a federal program aimed at providing money to connect schools and libraries to the Internet could stop paying for “outdated” services such as pagers, mobile phones, hosted email, web hosting and 800 numbers.
The “E-Rate” program is part of the $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund and is designed to provide affordable telecommunications and internet access to schools and libraries. According to a report from the New York Times, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler said a special task force will be looking into how E-Rate can be modernized to better meet the needs of the 21st Century.
Only half of the E-Rate funding goes towards high-speed (100mbps) Internet, and no funding goes towards Wi-Fi.
Recently, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel set out her perspectives on modernizing the E-Rate program at SXSW.
“Spending smart means better accounting practices that the FCC has already identified will free up for more E-Rate broadband support over the next two years,” said Rosenworcel. “But spending smart goes beyond that. Because on a long-term basis we need to make sure that all E-Rate support is focused on high-speed broadband.”
She wants network speeds in schools to reach 100Mbps for every 1,000 students soon, and 1Gbps per 1,000 students at all schools by the end of the decade.
Wheeler says the FCC is looking into re-prioritizing wireless broadband services before it looks at tax increases as a way to increase the connectivity of schools and libraries.
While it seems appropriate to do away with funding pagers, mobile phones, and 800 numbers, it may be harder to transition away from email and web hosting, and likely require schools and libraries to pay for hosting fees out-of-pocket.