A draft Report and Order unveiled by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last Friday would modernize the Universal Service E-Rate program by boosting significantly the amount of funding to be made available for Wi-Fi connectivity in the nation’s schools. The draft order now circulating among the FCC’s commissioners is slated for a vote at the agency’s upcoming open meeting on July 11. Established in 1996, the E-Rate program was developed initially to support and expand the availability of fixed dial-up Internet services in schools and libraries. Although E-Rate dollars have been allocated more recently for fixed broadband connections, Wheeler noted in a blog post that, “as currently structured, E-Rate in past years has only been able to support Wi-Fi in 5% of schools and 1% of libraries.” Explaining the impetus for the draft order, Wheeler related that “new technologies like tablets and digital textbooks are providing great new opportunities for individualized learning and research.” As such, Wheeler stressed that “effective use of this technology requires individual connections in schools and libraries to personal devices, and Wi-Fi is the most cost effective way to provide connectivity.” To boost such connectivity, the draft order calls for $1 billion in E-Rate Wi-Fi funding for the 2015-2016 academic year and an additional $1 billion in funding for the 2016-2017 school year. Wi-Fi funds would be allocated at a ratio of four-to- one, meaning that the program would distribute four dollars for every dollar spent by the poorest schools. While anticipating that the $1 billion outlay will connect at ten million students to Wi-Fi in 2015, the proposed order also mandates “predictable support continuing in future years.” Funds for Wi-Fi would be managed in addition to the $2.4 billion that is spent annually by the E-Rate program and would come from reserve and other existing accounts that the FCC has identified previously as potential broadband resources. The draft order also takes various steps to promote efficiency and transparency while eliminating spending abuses. Applauding Wheeler’s proposal as one that “appropriately reflects the advice of the committee to pursue improvements to the E-Rate program,” House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said, “I look forward to seeing this proposal move through a transparent and deliberative process.”