- A majority of schools and libraries participating in the federal E-rate program continue to report a need for cybersecurity support provided by the Federal Communications Commission funds, according to the 13th annual E-rate survey released Tuesday by Funds For Learning. Less than half — 48% — of participants said their library or school currently budgets for cybersecurity products and services on an annual basis.
- Additionally, 93% of participants agree or strongly agree that the E-rate program, which funds basic internet connectivity in schools and libraries, should include “support for comprehensive network security solutions.”
- As the FCC considers ways to include cybersecurity in the program, most participating schools and libraries said cybersecurity measures — like next-generation firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and content or malware filtering and domain name system security — should qualify for E-rate funding.
With the number of ransomware attacks against K-12 schools and colleges on track to mark a record-breaking year in 2023, school administrators and federal officials alike have increasingly called for more resources to support school districts.
In July, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal to invest up to $200 million over a three-year span to improve school and library cybersecurity. The initiative would fund a pilot program through the Universal Service Fund and would be separate from E-rate dollars. However, the full commission still needs to approve the plan and issue a proposed rule seeking public comment on and how the program should be structured.
Before Rosenworcel’s announcement, the FCC announced in December it was seeking public comment on using the E-rate program to fund school and library cybersecurity upgrades, particularly for advanced or next-generation firewalls.
Brian Stephens, director of stakeholder engagement for Funds For Learning, said he wasn’t surprised to see cybersecurity continue to be a high priority for schools and libraries.
“It’s on the minds of tech directors at school districts. Every single one we talk to — it’s one of the biggest things keeping them up at night,” Stephens said.
The survey helps shed some light on the issue for FCC consideration, too, Stephens said.
“The FCC has been, I think, really genuine and earnest in their desire to see what they can do to help, but it’s a big deal,” Stephens said. “It’s a daunting task, and I think they’re really trying to figure out exactly ‘What is our role here? How can we help, and where does it go from there?’”
Other findings from the Funds For Learning survey indicate ongoing signs the homework gap is closing, though still a prominent issue for most schools and libraries. Some 74% of survey respondents agreed that insufficient home internet access is a significant issue for students and library patrons in their community — a 4 percentage point decrease from the previous year.
The ongoing concern that students don’t have home broadband access was brought into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic when fully remote instruction proved difficult for families who could not access or afford internet services.
Still, the problem persists: A recent report from the nonprofit Connected Nation found 22% of low-income households with children continue to lack home internet access.
As one option to further expand student internet access, the FCC will consider next week whether to make school bus Wi-Fi eligible for E-rate funds. There is support among schools and libraries to include school bus internet connectivity in the program, with the Funds For Learning survey showing 66% of respondents back such efforts.
The Funds For Learning report surveyed 2,110 E-rate applicants in June.