Today, the FCC released its much-anticipated Public Notice, which fleshes out several issues first raised in its E-rate modernization Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), which we discussed in a prior blog entry. The FCC states in the notice that it can “free up” an additional $2 billion over the next two years, which, based on prior press reports, it will accomplish by reallocating existing Universal Service funding rather than by increasing the contribution factor.
The Public Notice frames Wi-Fi and “internal connections” (such as wiring, wireless access points, and supporting software) as tools that will enable schools and libraries to access high speed broadband services, and seeks comment on precisely which elements to fund and how the FCC can more widely distribute such funding, which has become increasingly difficult for schools to obtain. It also seeks comment about a possible initiative that would provide limited funding for broadband network construction projects. Current E-rate rules can make it challenging to obtain funding for such projects. Some funding for the FCC’s proposals will likely come from phasing out funding for traditional phone services in favor of voice over Internet protocol services. The Public Notice seeks comment on how quickly the FCC should phase out such services and how much time schools will need to ramp up the broadband networks over which such services would be provided.
Finally, the Public Notice seeks comment on possible experiments with new cost effectiveness measures, such as bulk purchasing of E-rate services and developing a technical assistance pilot program to provide assistance to schools and libraries in network design or technical planning.