In every school district in America today, educators are faced with a simple, yet critically important, question.  How do we obtain, implement, and integrate transformative technology into all of our schools and classrooms?

Some districts have embraced technology and put mobile and collaborative devices in the hands of students.   In The Katy School District in Texas, for instance, performance on math tests increased from 70th to 90th percentile following adoption of mobile technologies and devices. Similarly, in the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, the district increased levels of competency in all subject areas from 60 percent to over 85 percent, and graduation rates increased by 22 percent.

But in too many schools and school districts today, the promise of connected classrooms is just that – a promise, and not reality.

That’s why it’s so critical that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) modernize and streamline the E-Rate program.  E-Rate is the cornerstone of America’s effort to provide digital education to students.  Since the program’s inception 15 years ago, E-Rate has connected more than 100,000 schools and libraries to the internet. It has a proven track record of success.

When the E-Rate program was first implemented in 1998, an Internet Connection may have meant that one computer in a classroom was connected via dial up.

Fast forward to 2013.  Many, if not most, of us have tablets and other mobile devices.  We expect Wi-Fi at Starbucks, airports, and just about everywhere else.   We need the same access to the internet in our classrooms.

When technology is put in the hands of students, they are more engaged, more attentive, can be more collaborative, and achieve better results.

So Cisco, based on its 15 years of experience implementing E-Rate technology solutions —  is calling on the FCC and other policymakers to set a bold goal – to ensure that every school in America has access to high-speed broadband – of 2 gigabits per second or greater – within 5 years.

This recommendation comes as part of a comprehensive review of our experience with the program and with school districts that have put technology in the classroom.  Here are Cisco’s five recommendations, as outlined in a white paper released today:

First, E-Rate must be adequately funded to support the needs of educators and students today.   Schools’ and libraries’ technology needs have outpaced E-Rate funding. In fact, requests outstrip the funding cap nearly every year – usually by more than 100 percent. Funding for E-Rate needs to increase, and the FCC should take a close look at the level as they review the program.

Second, the FCC should support deployment of cost-effective, cohesive networks that provide capacity for the future and long-term efficiencies.

School networks must have sufficient broadband connectivity to the school and within the school.  They must also include elements such as network management and maintenance, safety and security, wireless access points, video endpoints, cloud services, and mobile access. This is the way that businesses build networks; this is the way the schools should do that as well.

Third, the FCC should eliminate the prioritization of services over networks. Currently, there is an arbitrary rule that prioritizes Internet access services over the networks used to provide those services (called the Priority 1/Priority 2 distinction).  This should be eliminated so that schools and school districts can have more flexibility in shaping their funding requests based on their individual needs.

Fourth, the FCC should simplify participation in the program.  The process for applying for E-Rate funds is too difficult, costly, and time consuming.  It often takes dedicated staff or outside consultants to manage this complicated and confusing process. The E-Rate Program would be both fairer and more efficient if the administrative process were simpler.

Fifth – as mentioned above — the FCC should set bold goals to address future bandwidth needs. Cisco recommends that by 2014, all schools in America have Internet access of 1 Gbps per 2000 students and by 2018 increase that number to 4 Gbps per 2000 students. In addition, Cisco recommends that in geographies in which last-mile fiber infrastructure is already built, schools should double the goals to 2 Gbps per 2000 students in 2014 and 8 Gbps per 2000 students by 2018.  This would go a long way to putting blazing-fast internet access in the hands of every student in America.

Today, there is a major opportunity to take advantage of the technology changes that are transforming teaching and learning. We hope that policymakers seize this window of opportunity, and modernize E-Rate.


Renee Patton

Former Global Director of Education and Healthcare

Global Industry Solutions Group