The E-rate application window opened in January, and there are only about five weeks left until the March 25 deadline. That date includes the mandatory 28-day competitive bidding process, which must be underway by February 25 in order to meet the March 25 date.
E-rate was brought into existence in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Formally named “Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund,” its primary goal is to ensure that all Americans can access affordable telecommunications services, regardless of where they live. The mission and funding of E-rate have been modernized over the years and now include support for high-speed broadband and higher-quality Wi-Fi in schools. As of December 2020, the E-rate program was supporting internet connectivity for about 95% of the K-12 students in the United States.
By ensuring that all schools and public libraries could access state-of-the-art services and technologies at discounted rates, the program would support equitable learning opportunities across the United States.
Pandemic puts a spotlight on K-12 connectivity gap
The outcomes of this program were put to the test last year when the global pandemic forced K-12 students out of school buildings and into their homes for remote learning. The nature of remote learning requires the use of devices and connectivity to deliver the normal face-to-face learning environment. The 2020 Household Pulse Survey found that 8% of households with children had computers available “sometimes, rarely, or never.” Approximately 60% of the households that “always” had a computer available for educational purposes received the devices through the child’s school. A full 7% of the surveyed households had internet available “sometimes, rarely, or never,” and 2.4% of the students who “always” had Internet available received access through a child’s school.
The E-rate and CARES programs have helped strengthened K-12 remote learning access in the past year. E-rate application windows were extended, restrictions on gifts were eliminated, and organizations were required to make public Wi-Fi access available even when the facilities were closed. The 2020 CARES Act allowed organizations to purchase technology that assists with remote work and remote learning. And, over the past several years, the K-12 community has been embracing 1:1 initiatives for students and faculty. Those who didn’t already have these devices deployed certainly had them on the roadmap.
When COVID-19 forced the schools to close, America realized how important it is to eliminate the equity gaps in digital learning and K-12 digital transformation as much as possible. The media was full of headlines about students doing homework on iPhones with limited data plans or studying outside near a facility that has always-on internet access for guests. Stable, reliable, accessible connectivity has never been more important for students than it is right now.
Barracuda solutions provide secure campus-wide connectivity, application protection, and network security for K-12 environments. Visit our corporate site for more information on our K-12 solutions.
Christine Barry is Senior Chief Blogger and Social Media Manager at Barracuda. Prior to joining Barracuda, Christine was a field engineer and project manager for K12 and SMB clients for over 15 years. She holds several technology and project management credentials, a Bachelor of Arts, and a Master of Business Administration. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
Connect with Christine on LinkedIn here.