The Federal Communications Commission approved rules Feb. 18 enabling "schools that receive funding from the E-rate program ... to allow members of the general public to use the schools' Internet access during non-operating hours." According to the FCC, "This action will leverage Universal Service Funding to serve a larger population at no increased cost to the E-rate program."
In a statement the same day, media organization Free Press said, "The E-rate program was implemented as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to provide discounted telecommunications and Internet access to schools and libraries in low-income areas."
"Increasing community access to the Internet is particularly critical in communities where residential adoption of broadband Internet access has historically lagged, including many rural, minority, and tribal communities," the FCC said. Its statement continued:
""Currently, Commission rules require schools to certify that they will use E-rate funded services solely for "educational purposes," defined as activities that are integral, immediate and proximate to the education of students. As a result, services and facilities purchased by schools using E-rate funding remain largely unused during evenings, weekends, school holidays and summer breaks. Waiving the relevant rules will maximize the use of facilities and services supported by the E-rate program by giving schools the option to open their E-rate funded facilities to members of the public during non-operating hours.[...]In addition, the Commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking, which seeks comment on revising the Commission's rules to make the changes permanent.""
The FCC statement also explained, "If a school chooses to allow community access, the general public will be able to use the Internet access already present in schools for purposes such as job searches and applications, digital literacy programs, and online access to governmental services and resources."