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FCC Upgrades E-Rate Program

Providing users easier access to "dark" fiber networks and a new funding index formula to help keep pace with inflation are among the changes to the Universal Service Fund program.

Stymied in their desire for faster more robust broadband connections, students, teachers and library patrons are promised an improvement in their broadband connections through the FCC's upgrade of the E-rate program. Part of the Universal Service Fund, the E-rate program was improved by the FCC this week to provide affordable, super-fast fiber connections for the nation's schools and libraries while at the same time the FCC launched a pilot program for off-campus wireless Internet access for mobile learning devices.

The FCC approval also established a new funding index formula that enables the program to keep pace with inflation; costs have increased 30% since E-rate began in 1997, but, until now, funding has remained capped.

"Some schools and libraries still rely on dial-up connections, and many have so-called 'broadband' connections that are slower than the average American household's DSL or cable modem service," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "These connections are far too slow to meet the bandwidth demands of many of today's applications.'

Previously known as the Schools and Libraries Universal Service program, the E-rate program earmarks up to $2.25 billion annually for telephone and web connections at schools and libraries. Established under the auspices of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the program has connected most U.S. schools to the Internet and also supports connectivity upgrades for school and library networks.

The program updates approved this week, make it easier for users to access "dark" fiber networks. The program also provides funding so schools can create wired "school spots" -- installations where schools can create "spots" so citizens can use schools' internet connections after school hours.


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