KASB and NSBA oppose federal ERate cap

In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National School Boards Association said it opposes the agency’s proposal to limit funds that help pay for broadband internet service for schools and hospitals. NSBA cites nationwide disapproval by KASB and other state associations in its filing.

The FCC wants to establish an overall cap on the USF, which is funded through fees on phone bills, and caps on the subsidiary E-Rate and Rural Health Care programs. The FCC is calling for comments on the proposal, which would force the four programs funded under USF, including E-Rate, to battle each other for funds if the overall USF cap is reached. Initial comments were due July 29 and reply comments are due August 26. You can read KASB’s full comments here and NSBA’s comments here.

The E-Rate program provides discounts to schools and libraries to ensure affordable access to high-speed broadband. Originally capped at $2.25 billion in disbursements per funding year, the Commission, currently chaired by Kansas native Ajit Pai, increased the cap in 2015 by $1.5 billion. In 2018, the E-Rate cap was $4.06 billion and demand for actual support was $2.77 billion. Kansas received $12.7 million in E-Rate funds in FY 2019.

“NSBA believes that E-Rate is an effective program and any efforts by the Commission should focus on continued modernization and improvement, and not on unnecessary changes that could negatively impact schools across the nation,” the organization said in its comments to the FCC. “Placing an overall cap on the universal service fund will lead to unnecessary competition among the four USF programs which is contrary to the intent of Congress. The legislative goal was to provide four distinct programs, each with specific funding, not one funding pool where the four programs had to fight for funding if an overall cap was reached.”

NSBA’s filing notes that state school associations across the nation, including KASB and its sister associations in Colorado, Montana, Texas, New York and Minnesota, believe the proposed rule would place severe limitations on school districts and negatively impact student learning.

“Reducing support for programs that are designed to provide broadband communications and information in rural schools, hospitals and homes would penalize hundreds of communities and thousands of students across Kansas and further widen the digital divide between rural and urban areas,” is KASB’s comment cited by the NSBA.

KASB’s legislative policies, affirmed by locally-elected school board members in 285 Kansas school districts, support access to affordable broadband service for all Kansas students, families and schools along with continuation and modernization of the E-rate program to ensure equitable access to telecommunications, broadband and high-speed learning options for schools, students and their families.

“While NSBA appreciates past work by the Commission to expand and modernize E-Rate and to better connect the nation to the Internet, the proposed rule will hamper learning and create confusion and unnecessary competition. NSBA believes this rule should be rejected and efforts by the Commission should focus on doing more, not less, to help students connect to broadband,” the national association concludes.

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