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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A tip of the hand

The day after tomorrow is the big day: the FCC will consider a Report and Order making some of the changes that have been in all the NPRMs lately. According to the agenda, "The Commission will consider a Report and Order that improves connectivity for students and library patrons, and accelerates the National Broadband Plan’s goal of affordable access to 1 gigabit per second broadband at community anchor institutions across the country, by upgrading, modernizing, and streamlining the ERate program."

The details of the order aren't out yet, but Chairman Genachowski telegraphed a fair number of the reforms in a speech today at a conference in California. I couldn't stand to listen to the speech and I'm too impatient to wade through the transcript, so I'm relying on a news report based on a briefing paper from the Chairman.

According to the news report, the following changes are coming:

  1. cut red tape
  2. increase broadband options
  3. launch a pilot program for off-campus wireless connectivity for learning devices
  4. allow schools and libraries to tap into unused fiber already in place and state, regional and local nets and bypass "more expensive options"
  5. allow schools to offer that fast broadband service to the community so students can access "affordable" high-speed access at home
  6. open the door to "School Spots," where schools have the option to provide Internet access to the local community after students go home

Here's what I think of those changes:

  1. I'll believe it when I see it.
  2. I can't think of any broadband options that are currently ineligible.
  3. News flash: Last year's Eligible Services List says, "A wireless Internet access service designed for portable electronic devices is eligible to be funded if used for educational purposes." Or is the FCC talking about mobile for pilots? That would be new.
  4. Oh, crap. Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but this makes it sound like the FCC is going to make dark fiber eligible only if it's already in place. How on earth is an applicant going to be sure that no new fiber will be laid? And won't new fiber be needed from the applicant's buildings to the first pole at least? Or is this just a way to allow applicants which currently have lit fiber to switch it to dark fiber?
  5. Double crap. Schools should not be in the ISP business. OK, maybe in rural areas. If the order just says that schools can allow remote users to share their Internet pipe, I'm OK with that, but if it does anything to subsidize those remote connections, it will be a drain on the fund to subsidize home Internet access, which is not what the E-rate was supposed to do. I've already blogged about how mission creep might sink the E-rate.
  6. This is just a continuation of a waiver from last February. And don't tell anyone, but a lot of schools have been doing this all along. Think about how many school districts offer some sort of continuing education classes for adults. What, you think they have a separate Internet connection for those classes? I think this is a great idea; the community gets access, and it doesn't cost the schools anything. And parents who come in to use the Internet connection will have more sympathy when their kids complain about how the crappy filtering software doesn't let you go to any good sites.

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