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E-Rate Item Doesn't Rate With Pai

Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said Tuesday that he can't support the chairman's proposed E-Rate reforms, that the chairman has rejected most of his suggestions, "has no interest in seriously negotiating with the Republican commissioners and is determined to pass the item on a party line vote."

That vote is scheduled to be held July 11. Pai has already signaled his no vote, saying the proposal gets an F from him. A spokesperson for commissioner Michael O'Rielly, the other Republican, was not available to comment on commissioner Pai's inclusion of commissioner O'Rielly in the subset of commissioners not getting the chairman's "serious" ear on the issue.

Pai argues that the chairman's proposal, which is focused on migrating support to wireless broadband, "will blow a $2.7 billion hole in the E-Rate's budget," one that Americans will pay for with increased phone bills.

E-Rate is a program that subsidizes advanced telecommunications to schools and libraries.

Pai is concerned the changes direct the bulk of the funds to large, urban school districts rather than smaller, rural ones, and says it is a government-knows-best approach rather than giving schools and libraries and their administrators the flexibility to decide what is best for them.

He said he was prepared to meet the chairman more than halfway.  "Chairman Wheeler’s five-year plan to expand Wi-Fi to all schools and libraries puts to work up to $2 billion in reserves, cuts costs and phases down non-broadband services in order to fund the expansion," said an FCC spokesman. "His proposal will increase Wi-Fi funding for rural schools by 75 percent and urban schools by 60 percent. Going forward, Chairman Wheeler will assess whether the long-term funding of the program meets the demand of schools and libraries for high-speed Internet access."

"The chairman’s staff and regular commission staff have met with Pai’s office numerous times, and the chairman is considering a number of ideas,” said an FCC official who asked not to be identified due to continuing deliberations. “But the chairman felt that some of the suggestions were a radical departure from bedrock principles.He is still considering some of the other ideas.”