A coalition of education and library stakeholders has filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its $200 million Cybersecurity Pilot Program and is urging the commission to take additional steps and modify the proposed program.

The Cybersecurity Pilot Program, announced in November of last year, would allow the FCC to obtain valuable data concerning the cybersecurity and advanced firewall services of K-12 schools in order to better protect schools from cyberattacks and threats to their infrastructure. The FCC said the pilot program would provide funding to eligible K-12 schools and libraries to “defray the qualifying costs of receiving the cybersecurity and advanced firewall services needed to protect their E-Rate-funded broadband networks and data from the growing number of school and library-focused cyber events.”

The coalition behind the comments includes the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), SETDA, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, the American Library Association (ALA), the  Council of the Great City Schools, the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), All4Ed, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), Common Sense Media,  Link Oregon, and Pacific Northwest Gigapop.

In their comments, the coalition urged the FCC to update the E-Rate firewall definition. The coalition said that modernizing the E-Rate firewall definition now – based on the 2022 firewall rulemaking – will provide near-term help to schools and libraries while the pilot program gathers additional information to guide future cybersecurity policy improvements.

“In the face of rising cyber threats, the $200 million Cybersecurity Pilot Program is vital, bolstering the integrity of our educational and library institutions,” said Julia Fallon, executive director of SETDA.  “The modernization of the E-Rate firewall definition will provide immediate support while establishing a resilient foundation for future-proof cybersecurity policies. Ensuring swift defense enhancements for schools and libraries, particularly those in critical need, would also provide essential data for informed policy improvements.”

Additionally, the coalition urged the FCC to augment schools’ and libraries’ existing Category Two budgets by providing $200 million in supplemental Category Two funding for applicants to use in 2024 and 2025. The coalition said that taking this step will enable schools and libraries to access firewall cybersecurity protections without delay while the pilot produces data to information other policy improvements.

Finally, the collation said the FCC should shorten the proposed three-year pilot to an 18-month cybersecurity pilot program which provides no less than $200 million to participant schools and libraries.

According to the group, the pilot should fund purchases of cybersecurity services and equipment while gathering data about participants’ implementation of best practices pre- and post-pilot. The coalition said in their comments that an 18-month pilot reflects real-world procurement cycles and the “pressing need to implement other cybersecurity policy changes.”

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