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FCC E-Rate Decision Draws Crowd

Trade groups, legislators and others were lining up Friday to praise the FCC's launch of an E-rate reform rulemaking aimed at refocusing the program from connectivity to capacity.

The E-rate program uses Universal Service Fund telecom subsidies to provide telecom service to schools and libraries that otherwise could not afford it.

"As the nation's premier broadband provider, the cable industry has built state-of-the-art networks that can provide powerful connections to homes, businesses and schools," the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in a statement. "We've partnered with the FCC and other organizations to promote broadband adoption for low income families through Connect2Compete. And we welcome the opportunity to work with the Commission on reforms to the E-rate program that will fairly and responsibly build a strong program to further enhance the role of technology in education."

Connect2Compete provides low-cost broadband to low-income families with school aged children

American Cable Association President Matt Polka praised the launch of the reforms and refocusing it on high-speed service.

"ACA applauds acting chairwoman [Mignon] Clyburn and commissioners [Jessica] Rosenworcel and [Ajit] Pai for initiating this serious review of the E-rate program," Polka said. "ACA has many local service provider members that participate in the program and many others that are experienced voice and broadband providers whose participation could enhance the value of the program. That the program has been valuable for schools and libraries is unquestioned. We now need to address flaws in the program and reorient it to deliver today's essential high-speed broadband service. ACA and its members look forward to working with the FCC to address issues and seize opportunities so the program continues, and in fact increases, its value for our country."  

"I commend the Commission for voting to start a rulemaking to expand and strengthen the hugely successful E-rate program," said Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who was instrumental on Congress' creation of the program. "We must provide our schools and libraries with next-generation Internet connectivity so that they benefit from the rapid advances in digital education technology. The global economy demands an increasingly educated workforce with higher skills and strong backgrounds in science, math and technology. Our students must have access to high-speed Internet connectivity to gain the skills necessary to compete. I look forward to working with the FCC on updating E-rate because every child deserves to be connected to the opportunities that this technology can provide."

Rockefeller held a hearing on E-rate the week of the FCC vote.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), another E-rate fan on the Hill, added her applause. "I fully support the steps the FCC is taking to modernize the E-rate program so that our schools and libraries can keep up with the digital demands of the 21st century," she said. "Expanding the speed of broadband, not just availability, is essential to this endeavor, and the proposed rulemaking will help advance America's classrooms and libraries."

"Today's vote is a welcome step forward as our nation makes the advancements necessary to ensure our children have access to the tools needed to grow and succeed in the 21st century. Providing ultra-high speed broadband to our schools and libraries is a critical investment in our nation's future and one that we, as a global leader, have not prioritized as we should," said the Fiber to the Home Council Americas. "The FTTH Council applauds the FCC and the Obama Administration's commitment to upgrading our nation's broadband infrastructure and look forward to seeing what opportunities arise when our sons and daughters have access to the networks of the future."

FTTH Friday used the E-rate vote as a springboard to ask the FCC to launch a matching grant program to help communities launch 1 gig service to anchor institutions, which include schools and libraries.

Software & Information Industry Association president Ken Wasch called the E-rate program critical to student success. "SIIA applauds Acting Commissioner Clyburn and the Commission for their vote today to modernize and enhance the E-rate program to better meet today's needs and to better support our nation's educational and economic competitiveness."

President Obama also praised the FCC for launching its
E-rate reform rulemaking. It is not a big surprise since Obama recently called
on the FCC to leverage the program to get high-speed broadband to schools and
libraries as fast as possible.

"Today, the Federal Communications Commission
took a first, important step toward realizing our vision of making 21st century
classrooms available to every student in America," the president said in a
statement. "Preparing our nation's students with the skills they need to get
good jobs and compete with countries around the world will rely increasingly on
interactive, individualized learning experiences driven by new technology. To
get there, we have to build connected classrooms that support modern teaching -
investments we know our international competitors are already making. OurConnectED initiative -- which has widespread support from Republicans,
Democrats, educators, business and tech leaders and state and local officials --
will ensure that the federal government can provide schools with the
infrastructure and tools they need to deliver this competitive digital
education for every student in the United States. That is the process that the
FCC began today, and we look forward to the next steps in this effort as we
move closer to our goal of getting 99% of America's students connected to the
Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within 5 years."