The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released an updated Order on its E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries obtain high-speed Internet access. This new Order modifies the definition of rural, so that a school or library located in an area with a population of less that 25,000 will be considered rural to ensure E-Rate funding in those much needed areas. This modification to the Order came after petitions for reconsideration and supporting comments were submitting by the Utah Education Network, the Utah Rural Telecom Association and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
The Order also approved a $1.5 billion funding increase for its E-Rate program, which will lift the overall spending cap, which has not been changed since it was set in 1997 from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion a year.
This funding increase comes after the FCC’s approval of the E-Rate Modernization Order in July 2014, which boosted Wi-Fi funding for schools and libraries by $1 billion a year over the next two years and strengthened educators in negotiations with service providers by requiring that prices and terms for E-Rate subsidized services nationwide be posted transparently on the Internet.
In addition to the $1.5 billion annual funding increase and rural definition change, the FCC approved other changes to the program which include providing incentives for states to support “last mile” construction and easing the process through which schools and libraries can obtain E-Rate money to use “dark fiber.”
The FCC also voted to suspend a rule that applicants need to seek money for big construction costs over several years, and allow telecom providers that receive subsides through a federal program designed to help rural areas to offer high-speed broadband to schools and libraries in those areas at rates reasonably comparable to those offered in urban communities.
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