WC Docket No. 13-184 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-Rate Modernization Proposal

Thursday, June 4, 2015

WC Docket No. 13-184
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-Rate Modernization Proposal
 7th Report and Order Modernizing the E-Rate Program for Schools and Libraries
Adopted: July 11, 2014          Released: July 23, 2014
Comment Date: September 15, 2014 
 Reply Comment Date: September 30, 2014
By the Commission: Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn issuing separate statements; Commissioner Rosenworcel approving in part, concurring in part and issuing a statement;
 Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissenting and issuing separate statements.
The E-rate program (formally known as the schools and libraries universal service support mechanism) is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The intent of this program is to assist schools and libraries to obtain affordable telecommunications services, broadband Internet and internal network connections. Eligible schools, school districts and libraries can apply individually or as a part of a consortia. Discounts to support five categories of service, 1) telecommunications, 2) telecommunications services, 3) Internet access, 4) internal connections and 5) basic maintenance of internal communications, can be obtained based on eligibility level of poverty and location (i.e. urban or rural).
Since E-rate’s inception 17 years ago, the proposed Order has been touted as “landmark” and a “significant step” towards modernizing the E-rate program. For Indian Country the digital divide remains, however with small, short term gains in the proposed Order there prevents continued opportunity to address connectivity challenges for tribal schools and libraries nationwide. As critical connectivity issues remain in most of Indian Country it is paramount to exercise tribal digital sovereignty by expressing comments to this order of the reality of dramatic connectivity gaps in Indian Country.
• Data regarding gap in schools and libraries, current connectivity, and connectivity targets and analyses of overall conclusions extracted from the data.
• How much funding is needed to bridge gaps, especially in regards to both WAN and Internet, given industry trends and broadband pricing over time.
• Per-student and per-square foot budgets for Wi-Fi and other internal connections for 2015 and 2016 funding; is the $1 billion funding target sufficient?
• Focus of the program on broadband and meeting long term connectivity needs.
• Consortium participation; Accommodation of schools and libraries on Tribal lands and establishment of different consortia rules for Tribal schools and libraries or operated by Tribal Nations.
• Education Coalition proposed model offering 5% discount rate for consortia meeting minimum standards. How this proposal would affect schools and libraries on Tribal lands or operated by Tribal Nations?
• Requirement to use state-reported NSLP data and will it impact Tribal schools and libraries, if so, how? Is there a reporting data process that should be used for other sets of schools?
Chairman Wheeler’s proposed Order is an effort to address the Wi-Fi gap, attempts to ensure that E-Rate money is spent prudently and seeks to improve the overall administration of the program. 
“Wins” for Tribal lands
• Recognition of need for “more extensive government-to-government consultation with Tribal Nations”; need for Tribal specific data and connectivity.
• Delegation of authority to the Office of Native Affairs and Policy (ONAP) in coordination with the Bureau and the Office of Managing Director (OMD to conduct government-to-government consultation.
• ONAP, in coordination with USAC will develop tribal specific E-rate training.
• Creation of a formal Tribal liaison at Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to assist with Tribal-specific outreach, training and assistance.

Wi-Fi Gap
• $1 billion committed for 2015 for category two services; $1 billion in 2016 and $1 billion targeted thereafter (not fixed allocation).
• Multi-year funding. Applicants who receive 2015 0r 2016 funds will establish a five-year budget cycle for category two services
• Multi-year transition to broadband funding and phase down of non-broadband services beginning in 2015 with 20% phase down (i.e. 90% discount will now be 70% discount). Only data plans and air cards will be considered if applicant can demonstrate cost-effectiveness.
• Potential flexibility to determine schools/libraries needs with clear broadband goals
• Pre-discount budget of $2.30 per square foot for libraries with a pre-discount funding floor of $9,200 in category two support over five years for those libraries that apply for E-rate funding in 2015-2016.
E-Rate funds
• Increase in minimum applicant contribution rate for category two services. Increased from 10% to 15%. Effective for funding year 2015.
• Encouraged creation of consortiums to support cost-effectiveness measures.
• Increase awareness of how E-rate funds are spent and prices charged for services.
Program Administration
• Change in names, priority one is now “category one” and priority two is now “category two”.
• Expedited process for multi-year applications, and small dollar amounts.
• Expedited review of applications.
• Electronic filing required, however accommodations can be made for paper filing if applicant can demonstrate need to do so.
• Highest discount for category two services set for 85%.
• Schools and libraries will use state reported NSLP (National School Lunch Program) data of a district’s NSLP participation rate to determine E-rate discount; mandatory use of NSLP data for schools participation in NSLP.
• Adoption of USDA’s CEP (Community Eligibility Provision) Provision 1, 2 and 3 information from schools and districts.
• Elimination of technology plans beginning in 2015 for category two services.
• Census definition of “rural” and “urban” adopted for this Order.
• E-rate applicants and service providers must permit auditors, investigators, attorneys, or any other person appointed by a state education department, USAC, the Commission or any local, state, federal agency with jurisdiction over the entity to enter their premises to conduct E-rate compliance inspections.