Colorado AG is leading a multi-country effort to use federal E-Rate funding to help students get broadband at home – not just in school.

Nearly five years after Boulder Valley School District asked the FCC to allow it to use federal funds to help students on the wrong side of the digital divide, the district finally got a response – in a roundabout way.

The FCC wanted to hear more, although it requested comments in response to a similar petition filed by the Colorado State Attorney’s Office.

The Boulder Valley area wanted to fix the “homework gap” faced by students who spend the day at school and then return home without broadband service. In 2013, the district began sharing the internet with a local neighborhood where none had existed. But since the internet was partially funded through the federal E-Rate program, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it violated a rule because electronic rate money can only be used on school campuses. In May 2016, the district asked the FCC To waive the E-Rate base Preventing money from supporting the Internet at students’ homes. The FCC did not rule on it.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Phil Weiser urged the Federal Communications Commission to consider his separate petition to address a split that became more apparent when students were sent home during the coronavirus pandemic. Weiser Driving voltage With the Nebraska State Attorney, Doug Peterson. Weiser has the support of 29 AGs in other states, Washington, DC, and Guam. The FCC, in seeking comments on the Weiser petition, noted that Colorado’s request was One of 11 Request permission to use E-Rate funds for distance learning.

Ken Vilman, the district attorney in the 5-year-old FCC case, said this would work for the Boulder Valley Schools.

“I don’t care who is going to decide the petition, we all ask for the same thing. If they agree to the Prosecutor’s petition, Weiser and never rule on our request, we still get what we want,” Filman said.

“The problem is can we use the E-Rate money to help eligible families get an internet connection,” he added. “The former FCC chairman wasn’t interested in doing that, and I know Acting President (Jessica) Rosenworsel, no one was there.” Bigger proposal to fill the homework gap Than it has. She was the heroine of the whole country. “

If the FCC goes forward and adds the AG’s request to the future agenda, it will be further than the school district petition ever obtained, Filman said. The waiver will need a vote to pass.

Exacerbated by the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic sent many children home last spring to continue their studies. Families suddenly ran into unexpected bandwidth issues as many children and parents tried to log in to get simultaneous video sessions. But there were also thousands of students without internet, which could exacerbate educational inequality.

State Ministry of Education Last spring’s assessment found 65,860 students in ColoradoOr, 8% of students in the represented regions do not have broadband access at home.

The country invested in other ways to heal the rift, and some private internet companies rose as well. In September, Gov. Jared Polis said the state will provide $ 2 million in federal relief funds to help counties deliver reliable internet. T-Mobile offered hotspots and internet access to areas within its coverage area.

Norma Buenrostro and her son Israel, 7, a second grader at Knapp Elementary School, have a chance to pick up a computer after waiting in line together. Queues of cars and people arrive on foot at Abraham Lincoln High School to pick up the computers needed for online learning during the COVID-19 outbreak on April 8, 2020 in Denver. (Catherine Scott, special for The Colorado Sun)

By October, the number of students without adequate internet had halved To 30,841, or 4.1% About students. But the E-Rate program is a Colorado hopeful tool you can use to reach these students.

The E-Rate program came out of the Communications Act of 1996 to provide communications equipment and services to schools and libraries with reductions of up to 90% depending on the poverty level in the region. But the software can only be used for E-Rate facilities, such as school classrooms and libraries.

“By granting this waiver, UNHCR can take immediate action to bridge the digital divide during the COVID-19 emergency,” according to the state. AG petition, filed in September. Two.

But under the law, the FCC can waive the rule “for good cause” when it is in the public interest, as indicated by the state’s AG office.

in that Public notice this month, The FCC acknowledged that in some cases, E-Rate has permitted off-campus support for services for schools serving “unique populations – including schools in tribal lands and schools designed to serve students with medical needs,” as the notice states. , Which also requested public comment on the Colorado petition.

“ If the FCC takes action on current petitions – even if the rationale for such action is closely related to the pandemic – it will set a positive precedent for future FCC actions to expand E-rate support for off-campus uses in the non-pandemic, ” he said. A spokesperson for the AG office.

The Bipartisan group From Colorado, Nebraska, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Oregon Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Boulder alternatives to the homework gap

Andrew Moore, chief information officer for the Boulder Valley School District, said he has made a comment in support of the Weiser petition.

But ironically, if an AG waiver is approved, the school district may not need it, Moore says.

After the FCC’s warning in 2013, Moore looked for alternatives. Three years ago, the district did a trial run with Live Wire Networks in Denver. Live Wire has placed antennas on Sanchez Elementary School in Lafayette to spread internet service to local neighborhoods. Students who eat free or reduced lunch living in the community qualify for free internet, while Live Wire can sell the internet service to customers in the neighborhood.

Live Wire is profiting from the region’s own dark fibers, which were paid for with bonds rather than E-Rate financing. Students get download speeds of 25 Mbps and 5 Mbps, but if there are three kids in the house, that speed increases to 35 Mbps and 10 Mbps and the region pays US $ 5 per month. 25% of Live Wire’s total revenue from non-student customers is attributed to the school district. The pilot was successful and expanded.

“Long story short, we are in eight schools now. We have 225 students calling for free.” And so we are resolving the digital divide through this public-private partnership. If the waiver request is granted it won’t really do anything for us, but me I think it should be awarded because school districts – most of which are funded by E-Rate for their networks – will be able to do something similar to what we are able to do. “

More: Smaller service providers in Colorado are boosting students’ broadband speeds – and helping parents block TikTok

The E-Rate Program is funded through a universal service fund from fees collected as part of consumers’ telephone and wireless bills. Set at $ 3.9 billion in funding for 2015, it was A maximum of $ 4.15 billion In 2019, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Last year, 331 Colorado entities received a total of about $ 60 million to pay for basic maintenance, internet service, equipment, and related services, according to the state Department of Education.

E rate after the pandemic

But with many districts returning to personal learning, some feel this is making this a difficult decision by school districts that really need extra money for their internet services and purchasing equipment for the school.

“I’m not sure how I feel about withdrawing E-Rate money from schools to get it to kids so they have services in their area,” said Kevin C. Edgar, principal of the Sanford School District in the San Luis Valley.

While distance learning is still available, most of Sanford’s 320 students return to school in person. Edgar said the district was able to work with local internet providers such as Jade Communications and Ciello to reach students who had modest service. But reaching others was too expensive.

Cell phone towers and rural broadband in Alamosa County, Colorado with Sanger de Christos on Jan.22, 2021 (John McEvoy special to the Colorado Sun)

He said, “We have one area (where) there are no towers, and there are no lines to that area.” “The kids who get it should get it from satellite services and then I think the cost is much more.”

And that’s a question for the future as teachers try to close the homework gap so that parents can respond to emails from teachers or read ads and students can download and upload their homework, Moore said, from the Boulder Valley School District.

“I think the real question is whether (the FCC commissioners) acted, was it just during the pandemic?” Moore said. “I am definitely a supporter and advocate of a solution to what we need to solve the remainder of this epidemic, and then we will continue talking for the long term.”


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