FCC Takes E-Rate On the Road

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday will outline changes to the agency's E-rate program.

E-rate reform is one of the items being voted on at the FCC's public meeting Sept. 23. Genachowski's announcement includes allowing schools and libraries to extend E-rate supported high-speed broadband access at "affordable" rates beyond the classroom and into students' homes.

The E-rate program (http://www.fcc.gov/learnnet/) uses funds collected from telecom companies via the
Universal Service Fund to subsidize access to telecommunications and Internet service by schools and
libraries at discounted rates.

The FCC earlier this year granted a waiver of its rules for after-hours use of E-rate supported facilities as an initial step in extending broadband access beyond the school bell. Now it wants to take it beyond the schoolhouse door.
The chairman will outline the FCC's strategy Tuesday at "Back to School: Learning and Growing in a Digital Age," a Common Sense Media forum in Mountain View, Calif. The chairman is a founding board member of Common
Sense Media, which promotes digital literacy and parental control over kids ' media consumption.

The FCC has concluded that the majority of E-rate recipients -- 78% according to an agency survey -- don't have
sufficient broadband speeds to meet the demands of kids and their teachers, and so Genachowski says it will
cut red tape and increase options, including launching a mobile pilot program.

The commission will launch a pilot program for off-campus wireless connectivity for mobile learning devices. It will also allow schools and libraries to tap into unused fiber already in place and state, regional and local nets and bypass "more expensive options."
The commission will also allow the schools to offer that fast broadband service to the community so students can access "affordable" high-speed access at home and "parents and teachers can receive instant feedback on student performance, identifying difficulties so educators can course-correct upcoming instructions."

According to a briefing paper on the announcement, "the FCC is also opening the door to 'School Spots,' where
schools have the option to provide Internet access to the local community after students go home. With affordable fiber, these School Spots are a major step toward the National Broadband Plan's goal of connecting an anchor institution in every community to affordable 1 Gbps broadband. School Spots will help ensure that people who otherwise lack access to enjoy the benefits of super-fast broadband."

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