- Data provided to Education Week by the Federal Communications Commission shows reforms made to the agency's E-rate program — which funds internal telecommunications connections in schools and libraries — have resulted in major demand for broadband services, as well as adequate funding support.
- The data shows a 92% boost in E-rate applications for discounted Wi-Fi equipment and services, with all requests likely to be granted following a December vote to raise the program's spending cap from $2.4 to $3.9 billion. The Wi-Fi requests could cost as much as $1.6 billion, EdWeek reports.
- A total of $3.86 billion is expected to be awarded based on fiscal 2015 requests, and 10,295 applications were received for internal wireless funding alone, compared to 5,356 last year.
Reforms made to the program in the past year de-emphasize non-broadband and external broadband services, freeing around $1 billion a year for additional focus on internal W-Fi connectivity. It's a big deal, not just because of the proliferation of devices in schools, but also due to states moving annual standardized assessments online.
Many schools nationwide — particularly in low-income urban and rural areas — lack sufficient broadband infrastructure in general, making device deployments and digital testing all the more difficult. In fact, a recent report from hardware, software, and service solutions provider Insight Enterprises found IT infrastructure upgrading expenses to be the No. 1 tech budget concern for the 2015-16 school year. These E-rate developments should help alleviate that, as well as push the nation closer to President Barack Obama's ConnectED initiative's goal of putting reliable, high-speed broadband in 99% of U.S. schools by 2018.
The FCC's February net neutrality vote, which would place the Internet under the agency's authority as a public utility and bar service providers from charging varying prices for higher speeds, is also expected to benefit schools.