AUSF UPDATE: FCC Approves the Arizona Universal Service Fund to Award State Matches for Special Construction of Broadband Infrastructure for Arizona Schools and Libraries
The Corporation Commission approved changes to the Arizona Universal Service Fund (AUSF), providing $8 million in state funding for schools and libraries across the state to access high-speed broadband internet services. In combination with Governor Ducey’s $5 million broadband funding proposal, these state funds could bring in more than $100 million in federal E-Rate funds to pay for special construction of the needed broadband infrastructure for schools and libraries.
The Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative is a partnership with the Governor’s Office, the Corporation Commission, the Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, the Secretary of State, and the nonprofit organization EducationSuperHighway. The program’s goal is to ensure that every public K-12 instructional building in the state is connected via high-speed and reliable broadband connections to enable digital learning in the classroom. The state of Arizona is also one of only eleven states to qualify for this special E-Rate program from the FCC.
E-Rate is a federal program that provides discounts to schools and libraries for affordable telecommunications and internet access. In December 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees the E-Rate program offered enhanced discounts for special construction of broadband infrastructure based on a dollar-for-dollar state match up to 10% of the total project cost. Yesterday, the FCC approved the Commission’s new AUSF plan as a state matching fund.
Commissioner Andy Tobin of the FCC welcomed the news, saying, “Thanks to the decisive action of this Commission and the excellent work of our Staff, in coordination with the Governor’s Office, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Secretary of State, and the EducationSuperHighway, we positioned Arizona to potentially access over $100 million in critical infrastructure funding from the federal government. This incredible collaboration shows what can be accomplished when government works together to find solutions for our constituents. I look forward to working with Arizona Department of Education over the next two years to administer these funds in a timely manner, ensuring broadband access for students all across our state.”
Commissioner Bob Burns also praised the recent FCC approval. “With so many students lacking basic internet access, securing these funds remains a top priority. High-speed connectivity will allow Arizona’s students to utilize technology, which includes access to Arizona’s internationally recognized Telemedicine Program with its grades seven through twelve pre-med introduction course to dramatically increase their educational aptitude and overall chances for success.”
Equal access to broadband services is critical to the success of a child’s education in the 21st century, especially for under-served children from small schools in rural parts of Arizona. Currently, only 23 percent of Arizona school districts meet national affordability benchmarks for broadband access. This announcement is a decisive win for all Arizona schools and its students.