The Federal Communications Commission is seeking public comment on its role to support school cybersecurity.
The Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is soliciting public input on using the Bureau’s E-rate program to pay for school and library cybersecurity improvements, like advanced or next-generation firewalls. The agency’s E-rate program provides significant discounts for school internet connections and telecommunications infrastructure. Currently, the program only covers basic firewall services.
According to K-12 Dive, an education policy and news site, the FCC’s request comes after stakeholders asked the agency to cover more complex and modern cybersecurity:
The agency’s announcement follows requests and issues raised in recent months from various E-rate stakeholders, including The School Superintendents Association (AASA), the Consortium for School Networking, communications technology provider Cisco, and E-rate consulting firm Funds For Learning.
Recent calls to the FCC to include upgraded firewalls in its E-rate program come as schools continue to grapple with growing cybersecurity threats and struggle to find resources to combat these concerns.
The FCC is asking the public to specifically share feedback on these five areas:
- The definition of next-generation firewalls and services;
- The specific equipment, services to be used and costs affiliated with next-generation firewalls;
- How these firewall services should be categorized under the E-rate program;
- Any measures to ensure cost-effective choices when applicants purchase advanced firewalls; and
- The FCC’s legal authority to extend coverage of these services in the E-rate program.
The public comment period will remain open through February 13, 2023. Reply comments will be accepted through March 30, 2023.
Cybersecurity in schools is an increasing priority for the federal government
In September, the Department of Homeland Security made $1 billion in federal grants available to school systems for cybersecurity. That grant funding can be used to “address cybersecurity risks or threats on information systems owned or operated by school districts to support best cybersecurity practices, such as multi-factor authentication, enhanced logging and data encryption.” Notably, however, the funds cannot be used to purchase cybersecurity insurance or for extortion payments stemming from a ransomware incident.