FCC Allows Community Use of Broadband Services

On 2/18/10, the FCC issued a ruling regarding community use of school internet facilities during non-operating hours. This FCC ruling temporarily permits schools to “…allow members of the general public to use the schools’ Internet Access during non-operating hours…” and waives requirements for schools to cost-allocate out such non-educational usage of the school’s internet access. The “temporary” period is the remainder of the 2009-10 funding year and the upcoming 2010-11 funding year.

This may be a step towards broadening the use of Universal Service Funds (USF) in support of the FCC’s national broadband initiative announced last year. There is also speculation that this may be a sign that the FCC is grappling with proposals made last year to radically expand on-line access to school systems by students and faculty outside of the school campus.

There are three provisions that the FCC has established which define and limit this community access and prevent any significant increased request for E-rate funds:

  1. Schools cannot request E-rate funding for services beyond what is necessary for educational purposes. This effectively limits significant additional pressure on the USF.
  2. Community usage is limited to “non-operating” hours: after normal closing time on school days, during weekends and school holidays, and during other periods when school in not in session. The school must continue to remain CIPA compliant, 24/7/365.
  3. Schools cannot charge community users for the use of the facilities beyond “”reasonable fees to cover overhead costs for using school services and facilities.” The FCC is very clear that services funded through the USF must not be “sold, resold, or transferred by such user in consideration for money or anything of value.”

The FCC 2/18 news release as well as the statements from four FCC Commissioners and the formal FCC ruling on the matter can be accessed by clicking on this link.