FCC To Invest $2 Billion of E-Rate On Speed Upgrades

The FCC is putting some meat on the bones of the President's announcement of a new FCC/industry effort to get high-speed broadband to 20 million students and at least 15,000 schools.

As the FCC has been signaling, including notably by Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the investment is about speed.

“This investment is a down-payment on the goal of 99% of America’s students having high-speed Internet connections within five years," said FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. "As we consider long-term improvements to the program, we will take immediate steps to make existing funds go farther, significantly increasing our investment in high-speed Internet to help connect millions of students to the digital age.”

The FCC announcement came about a week after the President announced that the FCC would be unveiling a new initiative. The President announced his ConnectEd initiative in June, with that goal of connecting 99% of students to next-generation broadband in five years. The FCC announcement should give the President more to talk about at a ConnectEd speech he is giving Tuesday at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., outside Washington.

The $2 billion is coming from the existing E-Rate fund, focusing it on high-capacity connections. Rosenworcel has long said the E-rate focus should shift from connections to connections with sufficient speeds. The E-Rate is part of telecommunications company subsidy—passed on to their subs—supporting advanced telecommunications to schools, libraries and other anchor institutions.

The FCC points out that "virtually all U.S. schools and libraries" are already connected to basic Internet, with the $2 billion to be used for "urgent" upgrades to "true high speed" connection, which the commission says only about half the schools currently have.

The migration of the fund to a focus on speed over deployment is part of a general modernization of the fund announced last summer. It will include streamlining applications, boosting transparency and helping lower prices schools pay for broadband. The FCC has also pledged increased oversight of the dollars spent, something congressional Republicans are particularly keen on.

John Eggerton

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.