FCC Proposes Cybersecurity Pilot & Welcome Changes to E-rate!

July 12, 2023

Cybersecurity Pilot Program

This morning, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced her support for a 3-year, $200 million cybersecurity pilot program.  The initiative proposes “to support cybersecurity and advanced firewall-related services for eligible K-12 schools and libraries”; however, we don’t yet know what specific equipment or services will be eligible for funding, or other implementation details.  The pilot will be under the umbrella of the Universal Service Fund (and therefore administered by USAC), but separate from the E-Rate program.  The next step is for the FCC to release a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to provide further details and seek public comment on how a pilot program should be structured, a process that typically takes several months.  After that, FCC staff will review the comments, develop an Order, and seek approval from the full Commission.  If approved, the pilot would begin sometime after that.  Thus far, these are the only additional details that have been released.   As I learn more, I’ll let you know.

Wi-Fi on School Buses and Wi-Fi Hotspot Eligibility

Chairwoman Rosenworcel also announced a new initiative, “Learn Without Limits,” that will allow E-rate funding to support Wi-Fi on school buses and the purchase/lending of Wi-Fi hotspots so that libraries, school libraries, and schools can check them out to patrons or students in need.  The proposal would pick up the work of the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), but under the rules, timeline and discounts of the E-rate program.  No details have been announced related to this proposal, with the FCC just saying, “the proposed changes to the E-rate program will require a full vote of the Commission, and the text of the E-rate related items will be released upon their adoption.”  My guess is that they intend to seek this approval in the next few months and then include these items in the FY 2024 E-rate eligible services list.  As I learn more, I’ll let you know.

Additional E-rate Modifications Coming and Proposed!

The FCC also announced that it would be considering an Order at its July 20 meeting which would adopt new rules to enhance Tribal communities’ access to the E-Rate program.  Although the draft Order mainly focuses on issues that impact Tribal libraries (for which I won’t provide details because they don’t impact PA applicants), there are a few very welcome items that will impact both schools and libraries:

  • Establish a Category 2 bidding exemption for all libraries where total pre-discount price is $3,600 or less per library per funding year.
  • Establish a 10% ineligible usage safe harbor for all applicants which says that cost allocation is not required when ineligible usage of internet is limited to 10% or less of total usage.  This change will be very much welcomed by our CTCs, schools that operate child-care centers, health centers, etc.
  • Provide relief from the current rule which says that all Category 2 equipment used by non-instructional facilities (NIFs) NIF’s is ineligible and must be cost-allocated from your E-rate funding request.  However, C2 equipment that is solely used by the NIF will continue to be ineligible (for example, WAPs in an admin building).

In even more welcome news, the FCC will be releasing a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to seek comments on a whole array of other E-rate reforms for which we have been advocating for several years, including, but not limited to:

  • Should multi-year basic maintenance (BMIC) software-based services the same as multi-year licenses making them fully eligible in the first year?
  • Should applicants be allowed to seek funding for the higher cost of the services (new or old) during the year in which they transition services from one service or vendor to another?   Should there be an exception to the service substitution policy and allow for increases to pre-discount costs for transition of services?
  • Duplicate Services – when can applicants purchase the same service from two different vendors in the same procurement?  Should applicants have to show the need for the services and that the services are not failover or redundant?
  • Should there be a competitive bidding exemption for libraries and possibly schools with annual E-Rate requests of $10,000 or less?
  • Should mid-year bandwidth increases be permitted as a competitive bidding exemption?
  • What changes to bidding documents should require the bidding clock to restart?
  • Should the 3 subcategories in the Category 2 section of the Form 470 be eliminated?
  • Should the form 486 be eliminated and the CIPA certifications transferred to the Form 471?

Assuming the draft Order is adopted at the July 20th meeting, the new rules listed above will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.  If the Further NPRM is adopted at the meeting, the public comment period for the other E-rate reforms will be established.  The Order and FNPRM are in draft form right now and are often modified prior to the FCC Meeting.  I’ll send a more detailed analysis and instructions on how you can submit comments after the meeting.

– Julie

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

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