As part of the national broadband strategy, the FCC will allow schools and libraries to use public funding to buy cable to build up their broadband Internet networks.
Schools and libraries will soon be able to use E-Rate funds to purchase
"dark fiber" lines, or unused fiber-optic connections, the Federal Communication Commission said on Sept.
22. As part of the FCC's national broadband strategy, the funding will help
these institutions move from basic Internet access to broadband.
E-Rate, also known as the Schools and
Libraries Program, reimburses institutions for computer and networking
equipment as part of the FCC's Universal Fund, which subsidizes phone service
for low-income residents and rural areas. The problem, uncovered by an
audit by the Government Accountability Office last year, was that nearly
all schools and libraries already had basic Internet access and the end-user
equipment necessary to get online. But the simple fact remained that schools
needed to move to broadband to take advantage of the innovative educational
tools available, such as mobile learning. What they really needed was funding
to buy and lay down fiber.
The FCC will be issuing an Order of the Commission over the next few days,
which changes E-Rate rules to make it "easier for schools and libraries to
get the highest speeds for the lowest prices by cutting red tape and increasing
their options for broadband providers."
By being able to use E-Rate funds to buy unused fiber lines already in place
across the country, schools and libraries can bypass more expensive options.
Dark fiber refers to the massive web of fiber-optics currently not being
used in the United States.
The telecommunications companies rolled these networks in the 1990s in
anticipation of demand that never materialized when the high-tech market
collapsed in 2000. Since then, the giant telecoms have been sitting on miles of
cable that have not been leased or sold. Many rural areas that thought they
were too far off the grid for broadband may actually have dark fiber nearby.
With the declining prices, it's more practical to buy fiber-optics cable
wholesale rather than leasing or renting. With E-Rate funds, schools and
libraries can roll out broadband networks at a fraction of the cost that would
benefit the entire community.
A big component of the FCC plan is to establish schools and libraries as 1G-bps
hubs, or "School Spots," for the communities they serve. This can
take many forms, such as by letting the community use the computer labs after
the students have gone home, setting up wireless networks for the community
or providing various e-learning modules. Opening up fast fiber connections
is a quick and effective way to expand broadband service into cities, towns and
The national broadband plan is a
series of initiatives to make broadband widely accessible in the United
States. Even though there were approximately
200 million Americans with broadband in 2009, there are still more than 100
million without. Noting all the benefits of having broadband in health care,
education and public safety, the FCC has announced various projects and policy
changes to spur broadband investment and implementation.
The FCC is expected to provide more information regarding the E-Rate policy
at the Open Commission meeting scheduled for Sept. 23. It will also vote on the
Order for "white spaces" broadband.