The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Nov. 13 proposed to create a Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program in order to better protect K-12 schools from cyberattacks and threats to their infrastructure.

The program would allow the FCC to obtain valuable data concerning the cybersecurity and advanced firewall services of K-12 schools. The proposed program aligns with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s Learn Without Limits initiative to ensure connectivity in schools and libraries.

“This pilot program is an important pathway for hardening our defenses against sophisticated cyberattacks on schools and ransomware attacks that harm our students and get in the way of their learning,” Rosenworcel said in a press release.

“Protecting our students is a critically important task and one that touches on the mission of several Federal agencies,” she added. “Ultimately, we want to learn from this effort, identify how to get the balance right, and provide our Federal, state, and local government partners with actionable data about the most effective and coordinated way to address this growing problem.”

The proposed program calls for an investment of up to $200 million over three years, and it would be established within the Universal Service Fund (USF). The FCC said it wants the program to be separate from the E-Rate program to ensure schools and libraries don’t miss out on vital funds to ensure digital equity.

The program would learn more about which cybersecurity and firewall services would be the biggest help to K-12 schools, who are increasingly becoming targets for cyberattacks.

Over the last academic year, the White House documented at least eight K-12 school districts across the nation that were impacted by significant cyberattacks.

Those breaches led to monetary losses ranging from $50,000 to $1 million, in addition to leaks of sensitive information about school security systems, and personal data on students and school employees.

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 proposal comes after the FCC announced earlier this month that it will allow E-Rate funding to be used for Wi-Fi on school buses beginning in funding year 2024 as the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program is set to sunset.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.