- The 2016 E-Rate Trends Report, prepared by consulting group Funds for Learning, found the number of requests for high speed internet doubled since last year, and almost all applicants to the federal program expect their bandwidth needs to continue growing in the coming years, according to EdTech: Focus on K-12.
- The report says more rural than urban districts applied for funding in 2016 (54% versus 46%), 72% of school districts believe Wi-Fi is critical to fulfilling their missions and 43% have networks that are just one to three years old.
- Last year saw a 12% decline in total applicants and a growing portion of applicants who relied on consultants to help them submit, and the program supported $4.9 billion in services, $3.25 billion of which E-Rate covered.
The Federal E-Rate program is insulated from the annual budgetary fights in Congress because it is paid for by consumers as part of their monthly telephone bills. But it can still be caught up in partisan fighting. The current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission opposed the two E-Rate modernization orders in 2014, one that created a new focus on Wi-Fi and one that vastly expanded the budget of the program.
Still, Ajit Pai took over as chairman under the Trump administration with a commitment to closing the digital divide. His opposition to the 2014 actions was because they ignored inefficiencies in the program and a tendency to favor wealthy and urban districts over poor and rural ones.