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How K-12 Districts Can Prepare for FCC's New Cybersecurity Program

The FCC expects to open the application window for the three-year $200 million Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program this fall and urges prospective applicants to start preparing now.

open laptop on a table with the words "cyber security" on the screen and hand drawn icons like lightbulbs and rocket ships around it
One month after approving the three-year $200 million Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is encouraging schools to handle specific administrative and planning tasks now, before the application process begins.

The FCC is expected to announce a fall launch date for the application window later this summer, according to a July 1 webinar hosted by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which will manage the program with FCC oversight. For now, USAC and the FCC have laid out steps prospective applicants can take to prepare for the pilot application and funding process.

The first step is to stay informed, which means signing up for pilot program emails. According to USAC, this email list is the best way to receive timely updates about the program and related training events. Schools and libraries can also visit the FCC and USAC websites for information.

Other immediate actions include obtaining an FCC registration number and a Billed Entity Number, creating a user profile in the E-Rate Productivity Center, and registering with the System for Award Management. These requirements for participation in the cybersecurity pilot program should already be met by current and former recipients of the FCC’s E-Rate funding, which helps schools and libraries pay for telecommunications and Internet services. However, E-Rate participation is not a requirement for the pilot program.

Along with the above administrative tasks, the FCC advises prospective applicants to start planning now to determine what cybersecurity goals they want to achieve, and what equipment and services they need to achieve them. Schools and libraries will be asked to include this information on the pilot application — the newly created FCC Form 484, which has not yet been released.

“Applicants may wish to consult other federal resources available through the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency and the Department of Education to help evaluate their vulnerabilities and identify additional protections for their broadband networks and system data,” according to the FCC’s Getting Ready Guide.

A more detailed look at what information will be required of pilot applicants and participants, as well as the overall pilot program, is available here in the full Schools and Libraries Pilot Program Report and Order.

The report states the FCC will focus on selecting a diverse set of pilot participants, with an emphasis on low-income and tribal applicants and those most in need of cybersecurity support.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how many schools and libraries apply for funding through this pilot program,” said John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition. “The FCC is only making $200 million available for three years. I suspect that the number of applications is going to far exceed that $200 million.”

The Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program was approved by the FCC in June to help K-12 schools and libraries pay for crucial cybersecurity equipment and services. The program also aims to gather data on which equipment and services will best help these institutions protect their broadband networks and data.

“This pilot program will not only provide much-needed support to a select group of schools and libraries, but also offer valuable insights into the scope of the challenge and the resources required to keep our students and educators safe online,” Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, said in a public statement.

USAC’s next training event for prospective applicants — the Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program Get Ready Webinar — will take place July 10 at 3 p.m. Interested parties can register here.
Brandi Vesco is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and has worked as a reporter and editor for magazines and newspapers. She’s located in Northern Nevada.