Kids Can't Wait: Let's Reform E-Rate Now!

Kids Can't Wait: Let's Reform E-Rate Now!

Reform E-Rate

It’s hard to believe, but it was 18 years ago that I was an active participant in the debates surrounding the 1996 Telecom Act, including the Universal Service provisions that established the E-Rate - Schools and Libraries program. It seems the only thing that flies faster than time is the pace of technological change.

E-rate is a good example of the technological changes we've encountered over nearly two decades. The E-rate program was designed to help bring Internet access to our nation’s schools and libraries—the anchor institutions that exist in every community, large and small. It was a successful program, connecting these valuable institutions across the nation to the vast world of the Internet, then only available to a small subset of the population. But today, the program is woefully out of date.

Millions of dollars—dollars collected on our phone bills—are being spent on dated technologies (such as pagers), while classrooms and libraries are left without wi-fi access. Bringing the Internet to the school is no longer enough. The Internet needs to be extended into the classroom so that teachers and librarians can design the kinds of 21st-century learning experiences young and older people alike need to be successful in our knowledge-based economy.

As an active member of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), ZeroDivide is part of a growing number of organizations from all sectors urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize and expand the E-rate program as part of the docket it has opened on this topic.

In an FCC filing last week, SHLB offered a proposed framework and a set of specific recommendations on practical ways to update the program so it brings schools and libraries, and the students and patrons they serve, into the digital age.

While the filing does not represent the specifics of what any of the single organizations is promoting individually, it demonstrates the combined passion we share for seeing that change happens soon. Others coalitions are being announced on an almost daily basis: CEOs and Governors along with countless individual organizations have also joined in asking for change.

Given the growing Achievement Gap that threatens to undermine our nation's global competitive position, this topic needs to be at the top of everyone’s collective action agenda.

Please urge the FCC to act now so our schools can invest this summer for the coming school year. Our kids can't wait; nor can our nation.

Learn more about E-rate and urge the Commission to act by visiting http://99in5.org/pledge/.

Elaine Carpenter is ZeroDivide’s VP of Business Development and an expert on both tech education integration and telecommuncations policy.