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FCC E-Rate Reforms Don't Rate With Education Groups

Count the NEA, the PTA, the American Federation of Teachers and a whiteboard full of other education associations as very concerned about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed changes to the E-rate program, which they argue could be a rush to reform that jeopardizes the program.

E-rate is the subsidy for advanced communications services to schools and libraries. The FCC signaled a vote for the July 11 meeting on the reforms, which are part of the FCC's efforts to make wireless more of a player and migrate away from voice subsidies, which will eventually be zeroed out.

Said one industry source, the education groups were looking for more money over a longer period of time than they will be getting. The source suggested it could be Wheeler's next big fight.

According to a copy of the letter, dated June 20, the same day the FCC's tentative agenda was released with the E-rate item on it, the groups have "strong concerns" with changes they say "will only dilute an already over-subscribed E-rate Program by threatening the program’s sustainability and historically successful track record and failing to meet the needs of urban, rural and low-density populated areas."

The groups, who are beneficiaries of the E-rate program, are concerned that the FCC cannot support a five-year, $5 billion investment in WiFi connections without raiding funding for ongoing broadband connectivity.

They also don't like a per-pupil allocation formula for schools, a one-size-fits-all approach that they argue is grossly oversimplified.

The groups said they appreciated the intent of E-rate reform and modernization, but not the current direction.

"Let us not rush into make significant structural changes for the sake of modernization and risk jeopardizing the entire E-rate Program," they told Wheeler.

Signing on to the letter were AASA, The School Superintendents Association; American Federation of Teachers; Association of Educational Service Agencies; Council of the Great City Schools; International Society for Technology in Education; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Federally Impacted Schools; National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Catholic Educational Association; National Education Association; National PTA; National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition; National Rural Education Association.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.