A new FCC announcement about changes to the E-Rate Category 2 is on the horizon, and those who follow education policy are abuzz with speculation. While no one can predict with 100% accuracy how this will play out, we’ve dusted off our crystal ball (i.e., consulted with a handful of experts). Here are some thoughts on what to expect.
Category 2 services are those “needed to enable high-speed broadband connectivity and broadband internal connections components.” Prior to 2015, Category 2 funding had no guaranteed availability. Since then, however, every school has been eligible to receive some amount of Category 2 funding.
Since 2014, when the FCC announced the new rules for Category 2 that would cover the five-year period of 2015-2019, the E-Rate program has provided more than $4.35 billion for Category 2 school and library projects. Before 2014, Category 2 funding was provided to only 14% of school districts nationwide; since 2015, that number has leaped significantly, to 83 percent. Many agree that the rules implemented in 2014 have had a positive impact and have resulted in more equitable and sustained funding to a greater number of schools.
If the FCC does not issue a successor set of rules, the rules revert back to the “two-in-five” year regulation. Under this system, applicants could only apply for Category 2 funding (previously known as Priority 2 funding) two out of every five years. Many considered this process cumbersome and confusing. The FCC’s staff recommends retaining the Category 2 budget approach instead of reverting to the “two-in-five” rule.
Now that we are in Year 5 of the five-year budget cycle, the FCC needs to come up with a plan for the next five years. In July, the FCC released its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Category 2 (starting in 2020-2021). It retains the Category 2 budget approach and proposed recommendations for how it might be improved. At that time, the FCC invited comments for improvements and changes to the NPRM, and comments poured in until the window for responses closed this fall. The FCC issued a similar public notice seeking comment on the new proposed Eligible Services List (ESL), to which some also replied.
Many organizations have weighed in with suggestions for improving Category 2 funding. Here are links to some of these recommendations:
Not too surprisingly, the above groups shared a lot of the same ideas, including the following:
Our belief is that the FCC will go with what these organizations have suggested, but we won’t know until the FCC publishes its findings. Stay tuned to this blog and this webinar for breaking news.
In the meantime, how should districts who are planning out their 2020 budgets prepare? While the waiting game may cause some anxiety, here are some guidelines to keep in mind. Caveat: Until the FCC issues its final ruling, these are all assumptions, and nothing is set in stone. No matter what eventually transpires, be sure to get your paperwork filed promptly. (In 2019, the window for filing closed at the end of March.)
To learn more about Category 2 E-Rate funding, register now for our upcoming webinar. During this exclusive, interactive event, our speakers, Brian Stephens, a Senior Compliance Analyst for Funds For Learning, and Sarah Bryant, Extreme Networks’ K-12 Education Specialist, will provide breaking E-Rate news and share best practices when filing for E-Rate.
This blog was co-authored by Sarah Bryant, Extreme Networks’ K-12 Education Specialist.