Network infrastructure company Cisco is recommending that the FCC put more emphasis on network infrastructure when it reforms the e-rate program. E-rate is the government subsidy for advanced telecommunications services to schools and libraries.
"E-rate is the cornerstone of providing digital connection to students," said Renee Patton, director of public sector education for Cisco, on a conference call with reporters, but it is at a "crossroads." Cisco suggests the FCC should take the road that leads to greater investment in infrastructure and speed. "In too many schools the promise of connected classrooms is not a reality," she said.
In a white paper released Thursday, Cisco recommended that the FCC should put more money into the program for the necessary services and equipment, should mandate baseline speeds, should support investment in "comprehensive, business-grade broadband and network solutions," and should eliminate the current priority on funding access service over investing in the network infrastructure used to provide that service. "Schools need more flexibility in shaping their funding requests," said Patton.
Cisco says without that flexibility, schools make inefficient purchasing decisions by "over-order[ing] voice and broadband access services, and neglect[ing] the internal networks that are used to distribute those services among schools within a district and among classrooms within a school."
In terms of speed, Cisco says the FCC should set a goal that schools have 1 Gbps per 2,000 students by 2014 and 4 Gbps per 2,000 by 2018. Where last mile fiber is already available, Cisco said, schools should have 2 Gbps by 2014 and a whopping 8 Gbps by 2018.
That 1 Gbps by 2014 is more ambitious than President Obama's goal in the ConnectEd program. The President earlier this year called on the FCC to help insure that 99% of students have at least 100 Mpbs (and preferably 1 Gbps) by 2018.
Cisco says it "stand[s] ready to help in any way possible."
In the paper, Cisco points to bipartisan support in Congress for E-rate, which is true. But there are some Republicans concerned about the President directing an independent agency, the FCC, to affect his E-rate expansion initiative, and about the potential additional fee on consumer phone bills.