FCC Adopts FY 2023 ESL & Seeks Comments on Cybersecurity 

December 16, 2022

This week the FCC adopted the final FY 2023 E-rate eligible services list, making only one minor change to clarify that fixed wireless service and fixed wireless routers are eligible for Category 1 support.  The ESL was adopted later than normal because the FCC has been debating internally whether they should expand the ESL to include cyber security and advanced network security tools and services.  Currently, only basic firewall appliances are E-rate eligible, but a growing chorus of stakeholder groups have called on the FCC to include cyber security as E-rate eligible as well.

Although the FCC declined to make such advanced network security tools eligible for FY 2023, they did release a Public Notice, seeking stakeholder comments on what are the advanced security tools and services should be considered for E-rate eligibility in the future.  Specifically, the FCC is asking schools and libraries to provide input on these areas:

1. Definition of Advanced or Next-Generation Firewalls and Services.  In the E-Rate program, firewall is currently defined as “a hardware and software combination that sits at the boundary between an organization’s network and the outside world, and protects the network against unauthorized access or intrusions.” We seek comment on this definition and, as discussed below, whether any modifications may be appropriate.
2. Eligible Equipment and Services and their Costs. We further seek comment on the specific equipment and services that E-Rate should support to fund as advanced or next-generation firewalls and services, as well as the costs associated with funding these services. What are the advanced or next-generation firewalls and services needed to protect schools’ and libraries’ broadband networks from cyberattacks? What advanced firewall services should be considered to be eligible “advanced or next generation services” for E-Rate support? Should firewall as a service (FWaaS) should be eligible for E-Rate support.
3. Categorization of Firewall Services and Components. Currently, pursuant to the Commission’s rules, basic firewall service provided as part of the vendor’s Internet access service is eligible as a Category One service. Separately priced basic firewall services and components are eligible as a Category Two service. We seek comment on whether advanced or next-generation firewall services and components should be eligible as a Category One and/or Category Two service. For example, if FWaaS is determined eligible for E-Rate support, should FWaaS be eligible for Category One and/or Category Two support? Should advanced or next-generation firewalls and services only be eligible for Category Two support and subject to the applicant’s five-year Category Two budget?  If advanced firewall or next generation services should be eligible as both a Category One and Category Two service, how should the Commission delineate these services as a Category One and as a Category Two service? We seek comment on these questions.
4. Cost-Effective Purchases. If the Commission makes advanced or next-generation firewall services eligible as only Category Two service, would this be an effective way to ensure applicants are making cost-effective choices when requesting these services and equipment? Are there other measures the Commission could adopt to ensure cost-effective purchases of advanced or next-generation firewalls and services are being made? Should funding be limited to only cloud-based advanced or next-generation firewalls and services to ensure funding is not spent on firewall equipment that will need to be replaced every three to five years? What are other steps the Commission could take to ensure that limited E-Rate funds are cost-effectively used for advanced or next-generation firewalls and services? How can these limited funds be allocated to ensure applicants are making cost-effective purchases? What steps should the Commission take to ensure the constrained E-Rate funds are available for its primary purposes of bringing connectivity to and within the schools and libraries in light of the significant annual costs associated with advanced or next-generation firewalls and services?

Comments are due February 13, 2023 and reply comments are due March 30, 2023.  Comments can be filed online at http://www.fcc.gov/ecfs and should refer to the E-rate docket number of 13-184.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

– Julie

Julie Tritt Schell
Pennsylvania E-rate Coordinator
717-730-7133 – o

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