Here's more news on the brightening outlook for rural broadband. This time, the news comes from a different arm of the federal government.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced last month it was raising the annual funding cap on E-rate by more than 73%, from $2.25 billion to $3.9 billion. The cap had stagnated at $2.25 billion per year since 1997.
E-rate is the FCC's program to provide discounted telecommunications, Internet access and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. Most of these are in underserved and rural areas. E-rate is funded by the Universal Service Fund and was mandated by Congress in 1996.
The increase in funds will come from higher user fees, which the FCC estimates will be an average of $1.90 per year for consumers and businesses. If demand for E-rate funding does not hit the $3.9 billion limit, the fee hike will be smaller.
The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that about 43.5 million additional students will get access to Wi-Fi as a result of the increased spending. According to data submitted to the FCC, 45% of school districts lack sufficient Wi-Fi capacity to allow them to deploy one device per student.
We are strong advocates for rural broadband, so any announcement about increasing connectivity to our nation's rural areas is of great interest to us. We've brought wireless connectivity to several rural areas, including such remote places as the high desert of California and the SENECA Nation of Indians in upstate New York.
Wireless is tailor-made for rural and hard-to-reach areas. With wireless technology, we can send signals over great distances securely, reliably and economically. There's no need to build towers and string up overhead wires over miles and miles of difficult terrain, no need for permits and armies of construction workers, and no need for expensive hardware.
Moreover, the FCC wants schools and libraries to be able to connect to a fiber backbone at gigabit speeds. At present, half of all public libraries, and 70% of rural libraries, have connection speeds of less than 10 Mbps.
We'll bring you more news of E-rate as it continues to be implemented. In the meantime, to read about our approach to rural broadband networks, click here.