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Letter to the Senate on E-Rate Hearing

July 16, 2013

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we offer our views of support for strengthening and expanding the E-rate program ahead of tomorrow’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, “E-rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology.” Since its creation in 1996, the E-rate has had overwhelming success in connecting our nation’s schools and classrooms to the Internet.  The program continues to be a vital source of assistance in maintaining connectivity and enhancing learning.  

NEA is a strong supporter and advocate of the E-rate program, as it has helped bridge the digital divide for countless students by providing them access to the internet and providing them the opportunity to develop the skills needed to compete in a digital age. The program has been successful at connecting nearly all our nation’s schools to the Internet. In fact, it has been so successful that merely accessing the Internet is not enough. Students and educators not only depend on access to the Internet, they require high-capacity broadband connectivity. 

NEA believes that additional investment in the E-rate program is needed to help bolster the broadband infrastructure of our nation’s schools. Without high-capacity broadband connectivity that can support multi-user school environments, educators and students will not be able to engage in enhanced learning, distance education and use existing applications, as well as support future applications.  The E-rate program could serve as the conduit to enhance the broadband infrastructure of our nation’s schools as it has had a good track record of providing ongoing Internet connectivity to schools. 

However, it is important to note that the demand for the E-rate program continues to outpace the discounts available. The additional investment to bolster high-capacity broadband infrastructure should not supplant current E-rate funding.  In FY2012, program requests reached an all-time high of $5.2 billion in discounts, roughly double the amount available.  In light of education funding cuts and the damaging effects of sequestration on education budgets, the need for the E-rate program has never been higher. 

NEA believes that the time is now for critical investment in the E-rate. Accessing the Internet is simply not enough. Our classrooms must be built upon a broadband infrastructure that not only meets current needs but also supports 21st century teaching and learning. The increasing use of technology in the classroom will transform the role of educators allowing the educational process to become even more student-centered.

Educators know that the E-Rate program is key to student success and ensuring access to technologies that better prepare our students for college and 21st century careers. We look forward to working with the Committee to strengthen this vital program.  

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations