Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is urging fellow agency commissioners to support a proposal that would take additional steps to enhance cybersecurity protections for K-12 school networks.

During a July 12 speech to the School Superintendents Association and the Association of School Business Officers, Rosenworcel said she would be sharing with her colleagues a plan to create a pilot program to invest in cybersecurity services for eligible K-12 schools and libraries with her colleagues.

“With the growing number of sophisticated cyberattacks on schools and especially the rise in malicious ransomware attacks that harm our students, now is the time to take action,” said Rosenworcel.

“We’re proposing a significant investment of up to $200 million over three years to harden the cyber defenses and determine the most effective methods to protect our schools and libraries,” she said. “Our pilot program will work in tandem with federal agency partners that have deep expertise in this area.”

The FCC said in a statement that the K-12 cyber proposal is part of Rosenworcel’s Learn Without Limits initiative, which launched last month and seeks to modernize the E-Rate program. The E-Rate program was established in 1996 with the aim of providing funding to libraries and schools for basic internet connections.

The first two phases of the Learn Without Limits initiative include Rosenworcel’s  call for support of plans that would provide WiFi service on rural school buses, and would purchase Wi-Fi hotspots so that libraries, school libraries, and schools can check them out to patrons or students in need.

The FCC explained that the third phase of Learn Without Limits is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on structuring a pilot program to support cybersecurity and advanced firewall-related services for eligible K-12 schools and libraries.

The FCC said it has been “closely looking at this issue for years.” In December 2022, the commission put out a notice seeking public comment on whether to add advanced firewalls or other network security services as E-Rate eligible services.

The proposal put forward by Rosenworcel would establish the pilot program within the Universal Service Fund, but separate from the E-Rate program. The FCC said that course would ensure gains in enhanced cybersecurity don’t come at a cost of undermining E-Rate’s success in promoting digital equity.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will require approval of a majority of FCC commissioners to move forward.

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