Public schools to open doors for after-hours Internet access

One of the "national priorities" in the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan is to use high-speed connectivity to "provide more educational opportunities and improve outcomes" for those in rural areas and inner cities.

The FCC said today that 97% percent of public elementary and secondary schools do have Internet access, but speeds are insufficient, and services are being wasted.

The Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Program already offers eligible public schools and libraries a special "E-rate" discount for telecommunications services and Internet access. But Commission rules currently require schools to certify that they will use "E-rate" funded services only for educational purposes, or activities that are "integral, immediate, and proximate to the education of students."

Therefore, these subsidized services go completely unused on evenings, weekends, school holidays, and summer breaks, when people in surrounding communities may have no access to Internet services at all.

Today, the Commission said schools receiving the subsidized "E-rate" will have the option to open their facilities the public during non-operating hours.

"These connections will be available to adults taking evening digital literacy courses, to unemployed workers looking for jobs posted online, to citizens using e-government services, and for other uses that local schools believe will help their communities," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said today. "By making broadband available to more members of the public, this waiver furthers the goals of universal service and the Congressional directive to encourage access to advanced telecommunications and information services. And it does so in a way that doesn't increase the size of the Universal Service Fund -- indeed, that encourages more efficient use of USF funds."

Schools that allow community members to use their E-rate services after hours, however, may not request service enhancements above and beyond those needed by students.

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