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Broadband, Connectivity, Cybersecurity, and E-Rate

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Broadband and Connectivity

A vast majority of schools across the country have the capacity to connect students to the internet every day, but only 38% of school districts meet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommended level of one megabit per second. [1] According to data from 2019, approximately 95% of households with 3- to 18-year-olds had internet access, but only 88% had access through a computer, while the remaining households relied on a smartphone. This shows a slight increase from 2016, when 92% of these households reported having internet access. Of the households without internet access, 26% reported that internet is too expensive and 6% reported that internet is not available in their geographic area. [2] Although the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted in-school instruction, programs supporting at-home learning reduced the amount of students without broadband access by 20-40% and reduced the amount of students without a device by 40-60%. Analysis finds that over 75% of these programs’ efforts will expire in the next one to three years. [3]


Cybersecurity

Public schools rely on information technology for many operations. But cybersecurity incidents, like ransomware attacks, significantly affect everything from educational instruction to school operations. K-12 schools have reported significant educational impact due to cybersecurity incidents. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), officials from state and local schools have monetary losses for targeted schools due to the downtime and resources needed to recover from entities report that the loss of learning following a cyberattack can range from 3 days to 3 weeks, and recovery time ranges from 2 to 9 months. [4] Literally impacting millions of students across the nation, this problem is growing at an alarming rate as are the costs to adequately address it.


E-Rate Program

The federal E-Rate program helps eligible schools and libraries access affordable telecommunications, internet access, and internal connections by providing discounts from 20-90%. E-Rate is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which was created in 1997 under the FCC. [5] Funding for the E-Rate program is based on demand and is currently capped at $4.276 billion. To be eligible for funding, a school must meet the statutory definition of an elementary or secondary school. [6] An eligible school may submit a request to the USAC for identified goods and services, followed by the school selecting the most cost-effective goods and services from competitive bids. Next, the school must apply to the USAC for approval of the purchases, and the USAC will issue funding commitments dependent on eligibility. [7] Discounts for goods and services depend on poverty level and location of the school. [8]


COSSBA Requests

Executive Requests

  • Efficiency and equity in the operation of the E-Rate program.

  • Enhanced and expanded capacity of the E-Rate program.

  • Flexibility in E-Rate program requirements and eligibility, as communities continue to utilize virtual instruction at an unprecedented level.

  • Sustained quality and speed of connectivity in schools.

  • Focus on closing the education technology gap and “The Homework Gap” for students in rural and low-income communities.

  • Additionally, COSSBA opposes the FCC’s proposal to place a budget cap on the Universal Service Fund and the E- Rate program.

Congressional Requests

  • Enactment of legislation that codifies and funds federal support for implementing effective cybersecurity measures for K-12 schools.

  • Distribution of emergency funding for students who lack access to devices and/or connectivity.

  • Implementation of a permanent exemption or solution to the Anti-Deficiency Act.

  • Reinstatement of net neutrality to ensure that schools are not paying additional costs.

  • Continue to support robust funding for rural broadband deployment in the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.

Sources

  • E-Rate Schools, Center for Public Education, National School Boards Association

  • The Condition of Education 2021, National Center for Education Statistics

  • The U.S. K-12 Digital Divide Has Narrowed, but Must Close to Eliminate Risks to Students and the Economy, Boston Consulting Group

  • Critical Infrastructure Protection: Additional Federal Coordinate Is Needed to Enhance K-12 Cybersecurity. GAO, Oct 24, 2022.

  • E-Rate Program – Discounted Telecommunications Services, U.S. Department of Education

  • Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 114-95

  • E-Rate: Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, Federal Communications Commission

  • E-Rate – Schools & Libraries USF Program, Federal Communications Commission


Position Paper

Click the button to download the COSSBA Position Paper on this issue.



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