FCC Chairman Wheeler posted a blog entry today on the agency's website emphasizing the need to change its E-rate rules before the next e-rate funding year in order to encourage the deployment of Wi-Fi to the nation's schools and libraries. Currently, E-rate rules relegate funding for Wi-Fi to the "Priority 2" internal connections category, which pays for equipment used to provide connections inside the school or library building. Priority 2 is only funded, however, after all Priority 1 requests (for services such as broadband connections to the school or library premises) have been fully funded. Last funding year, no Priority 2 request was funded due to the high demand for Priority 1 funding, and in prior years only the applicants at the highest discount rates received such funding.
It is very likely that the FCC is looking to alter the priority system so that Wi-Fi deployment is encouraged. This has been teed up since its Public Notice last March (summarized in a prior blog entry) seeking comment on how encouraging Wi-Fi might further the FCC's broadband goals for schools and libraries. In today's comments, the Chairman for the first time hinted at how much funding could potentially be made available for Wi-Fi connections, stating that "allocating an additional $1 billion to Wi-Fi next year," combined with program rule changes "could help over 10 million students, including many more in rural areas, connect to Wi-Fi in their classroom."