The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on a proposal to establish a three-year pilot program to provide up to $200 million to support cybersecurity and advanced firewall services to eligible schools and libraries.

The Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program was proposed in a rule issued Dec. 29 to be offered through the Universal Service Fund, a system of telecommunications subsidies and fees managed by the FCC to promote universal access to telecommunication services in the United States.

The pilot program seeks to address a critical need to secure education systems by providing financial assistance to schools and libraries to enable them to implement cybersecurity measures. The proposed measures include advanced firewalls and other security protocols needed to protect sensitive student and staff data and maintain the integrity of educational networks.

The proposed funding aims to ensure that schools and libraries, especially those in underresourced areas, have equal access to the necessary tools to defend against cyberthreats. Doing so is said to align with the FCC’s broader mission to bridge the digital divide and ensure equitable access to technology across all communities.

The program is also expected to generate insights into the cybersecurity challenges faced by educational institutions by collecting data on the types of cybersecurity services used and their effectiveness. The results will be used to develop best practices and strategies for managing cyber risks in the education sector.

The FCC has opened comments on the proposal through Jan. 29. The FCC plans on using stakeholder feedback to shape the final structure of the program, ensuring it addresses the specific needs of schools and libraries. The commission seeks input demonstrating a commitment to collaborative policymaking, ensuring educators, librarians, technology experts and the public are heard and considered in developing the initiative.

The initial response to the program has been positive, with Mike Barker, chief commercial officer of threat detection company HYAS Infosec Inc., telling SiliconANGLE it’s a crucial step in securing schools.

“By emphasizing the use of free or low-cost resources coupled with continued support for the E-Rate program, this program aims to maximize impact and signals a holistic strategy to safeguard educational entities against cyberthreats,” Barker added.

Image: FCC

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