The federal E-rate program remains a vital and trusted funding source to bring “mission-critical” internet access to schools and libraries, according to an annual report tracking trends and developments related to the federal funding stream.
The 2021 E-rate Trends Report, from E-rate compliance services firm Funds For Learning, arrives as school systems work through COVID-related impacts, including the Homework Gap and on- and off-campus broadband needs.
Responses from a record-breaking 2,164 applicants indicate that E-rate remains essential, and network security is now an urgent concern.
Key 2021 report findings include:
1. E-rate remains a vital program for schools and libraries to achieve connectivity. With a record number of sites served in 2021 (130,418), 97 percent of respondents agree that more students or library patrons are connected because of the E-rate program. Ninety-five percent agree that E-rate funding is vital to internet connectivity.
2. Network security is a critical issue deserving of E-rate support. Seventy-six percent of applicants say network security is a serious and urgent concern. Ninety-seven percent of applicants agree that network security should qualify for E-rate support.
3. Applicants see the E-rate program’s administration in a positive light. Only 9 percent of applicants are dissatisfied with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the program administrator. Since 2016, overall satisfaction with program administration has steadily increased.
“This year’s Trends Report indicates that the E-rate program is solid and steady,” said John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning. “While connectivity needs continue to evolve, the Trends Report tells a very important story about E-rate as a vital resource for schools and libraries. The past two school years have showed us that school communities depend upon broadband access and network security.”
Survey respondents said self-provisioned networks (90 percent), school bus wi-fi (64 percent), telephone service (67 percent), dial internet (84 percent), and primary internet (98 percent) should qualify for Category One E-rate support.
Wi-fi (99 percent), VOIP hardware (82 percent), basic maintenance (97 percent), managed wi-fi (91 percent), and network security should qualify for Category Two E-rate support.
In FY2020, 90.1 percent of survey respondents agreed that insufficient internet access in students’ homes or for library patrons was a significant community issue, and 85.7 percent agreed in FY2021.
If the FCC allowed organizations receiving E-rate funding to share internet access off campus at no additional cost to the E-rate program, 75 percent of survey respondents said they would take advantage of the opportunity.
Participation in this year’s survey was at an all-time high with 2,164 responses counted, equivalent to 10.1 percent of all FY2021 E-rate applicants.
Findings from the report will aid and inform key policymakers and administrative members in maintaining the value of the E-rate program and adapting funding to meet stakeholder needs.
Material from a press release was used in this report.