The commission had been in the middle of its second period for public comment on the program, which provides funding that allows schools and libraries to purchase telecommunications services at discounted prices. Roughly 800 individuals and groups weighed in during an initial comment period, which closed in mid-September. During the current phase, which for the moment is scheduled to close on Oct. 16, educators, advocacy groups, industry reps and others are invited to comment on the ideas, proposals, and themes that emerged in round one, many of which I reported on earlier this week.
The comments that have already been filed are no longer viewable online, however, and the FCC website now features the following message:
"We regret the disruption, but during the Federal Government-wide shutdown, the FCC is limited to performing duties that are immediately necessary for the safety of life or the protection of property."
A public notice released by the commission seems to indicate that if the shutdown were to extend until Oct. 16 or beyond, all comments on the E-rate program would be due the day after the commission resumes operations:
"Any materials...that would otherwise by required to be filed with the Commission (at its headquarters, Gettysburg, PA or U.S. Bank) during the suspension of operations or on the day of return to normal operations, will be due on the business day following the day of return to normal operations."
The notice also states that "during the period that the Commission's electronic filing systems are unavailable, electronic filing requirements cannot be satisfied by attempting manual filing, with or without a request for waiver of filing requirements."
In the meantime, the International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, is soliciting educator comments on the E-rate program through its website.
"Educators can send their comments and ISTE will assist them in making their filings when the government reopens," wrote CEO Brian Lewis in a email sent out to the group's members.
"Fast and reliable school networks are the backbone for connecting students and educators in a connected world," Lewis wrote. "Feel free to share your experiences about how challenging it can be to implement effective digital learning strategies when the network is unreliable or too slow."