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E-Rate Program Expansion: A Pathway to Combating Cybersecurity Attacks in K-12 Schools

Posted by on Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Notes, Volume 26, Issue 4.

Madeline Strasser | 26 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 865 (2024)

Every day, a K-12 school in the United States falls victim to a harmful cyberattack that can cost it millions of dollars and keep its doors closed for days or weeks. Schools are desperate for funding to purchase essential cybersecurity services and products to protect their school’s networks from these cyberattacks. Such funding should be available through the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program, which was established as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to provide discounts for connectivity services in K-12 schools across the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and other telecommunications industry stakeholders submitted petitions asking the FCC to consider expanding the E-Rate program to include discounts for advanced firewall and network security services. While schools can currently utilize the E-Rate program to obtain discounts on telecommunications and internet services like cable modems, routers, and antennas, they are currently unable to use E-Rate program funding to purchase essential cybersecurity products and services, including advanced or next-generation firewalls, that would mitigate the impact of cyberattacks.

With technological advancements, hackers are more capable than ever to devastatingly harm school networks; as such, the technological needs for achieving connectivity to schools have changed since the 1996 Act was passed. Advanced or next-generation firewalls and other network security services are now more essential than ever to obtaining safe and efficient connectivity for K-12 schools. This Note proposes that the FCC immediately expand the E-Rate program to include essential cybersecurity products and services in the program’s eligible services list. The FCC has the requisite authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to expand the E-Rate program’s eligible services list to keep up with changing technological needs. While different sectors of the federal government are working to resolve the cybersecurity problems schools are facing, what schools need most is immediate and accessible funding.

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