FCC approves school WiFi plan

(UPDATED, 1:28 p.m., with comment from Tom Luna.)

In a vote that could have dramatic implications for schools in Idaho and across the nation, the Federal Communications Commission voted Friday to put $1 billion a year into WiFi systems.

The plan could provide 259,187 Idaho students with WiFi access, according to FCC estimates, and eventually install WiFi in 726 schools and 143 libraries statewide. The FCC will find the money by shifting spending away from programs to fund voice service, email and pager purchases.

But the FCC proposal sparked some controversy, Kate Tummarello of The Hill reported Friday. Republicans fear the plan would trigger an increase in phone bills; Democrats feared the plan would come at the expense of basic Internet connectivity in schools and libraries. Ultimately, the plan passed on a 3-2 vote.

In a news release, state superintendent Tom Luna praised the move.

“Whether you are in an urban school district or a geographically diverse state like Idaho, we know we will never truly meet the needs of all students until we close the digital divide and provide classroom teachers the 21st century tools they need to individualize instruction for every child,” he said.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, hailed Friday’s move. “With today’s order, state education leaders now will have access to funding for internal WiFi connections that will support digital learning in the classroom and help create important educational opportunities for millions of U.S. students.”

Money for the WiFi initiative would come from the “e-rate” funding, a monthly fee attached to cell phone and landline bills. E-rate has paid for broadband initiatives — such as the Idaho Education Network, which has connected high schools across the state. But e-rate payments for this program have been on hold for 16 months, as an FCC contractor reviews the Idaho Education Network contract.

Friday’s FCC decision will have no effect on the Idaho Education Network funding situation.

For more on the WiFi proposal, here’s a link to my story from Thursday.


  • http://cameronbarrett.com/ Cam Barrett

    This is a good move forward. While some questions remain on how it will actually be funded beyond the first two years, I am in complete agreement with the modernization of the list of eligible services that a school district can pay for with E-Rate dollars. For too many years, school districts have been relying on federal money to offset the exorbitant costs of proprietary web site management solutions and hosting. The companies in this space have been collecting these E-Rate dollars and their products simply are not that good. Many school districts are locked into multi-year contracts, knowing that they can pay for the majority of the costs with E-Rate. This is going to change. School districts will need to shop around for less expensive and better solutions for their web sites. I am going through this process right now at Newark Public Schools (largest district in NJ) and our annual cost is 50% of what it was with a proprietary solution. Please feel free to ask me (cbarrett@nps.k12.nj.us) how we are doing this. It involves open source software, cloud-based hosting, and secure dedicated managed servers instead of an expensive, closed, SaaS vendor solution.