In a recent blog entry posted on February 20, 2014, FCC staff signaled the Commission’s intentions to propose changes to the E-rate program that will increase support for the deployment of Wi-Fi networks and services. Chairman Wheeler recently identified Wi-Fi service as one of two “transformative technologies” supporting the revolution in education (the other being the emergence of tablet computing platforms). In the blog post Commission staff outlines several elements of the current program that effectively limit support for deployment of Wi-Fi networks and services. Recognizing the problems with these kinds of limits, the Commission signaled its intent to address these problems via changes to the E-rate program.

Although Wi-Fi service is widely deployed in subscriber homes and businesses in many urban markets, its deployment in the nation’s schools and libraries is more limited. As the FCC recognizes, the current Priority 1 and Priority 2 construct of the E-rate program limits opportunities to fund Wi-Fi deployment, and in fact devalues Wi-Fi in favor of older, less dynamic technologies like paging and long distance service. As a result, there will not be any funds available for deploying Wi-Fi, and other priority 2 services, for funding year 2013.

In the coming weeks the FCC will offer specific proposals to modernize the E-rate program to better align funding with today’s broadband services and applications, such as to support the deployment of Wi-Fi networks and services. In conjunction with that proposal we also expect the Commission to outline proposals to redistribute some funding from schools and libraries in urban areas to those in rural areas, where Wi-Fi and other broadband services are often lacking.