FCC Seeks Input on Boosting E-Rate Broadband Speeds

The FCC has issued a public notice seeking comment on those and other conclusions gleaned from some 1,500 comments on its proposal to overhaul the E-rate program, which is a telecom industry subsidy—passed on to consumers—funding advanced telecommunications to schools, libraries and other anchor institutions.

"Based on the extensive input the Commission has received," the Wireline Competition Bureau said in announcing the notice, "it appears that meeting the Commission’s proposed goals for the E-rate program will require that, in the near term, the program focus on providing the support necessary to ensure schools and libraries can afford high-speed connectivity to and within schools and libraries."

The FCC said there were three basic themes it wanted to flesh out through more comments: 1) How to focus support on high-capacity broadband, particularly Wi-Fi and other internal connection; 2) whether and how to phase out support for traditional voice to free up more funding for broadband; and 3) whether there are demonstration projects or experiments that could help test ways to test more cost-effective purchasing.

One of the FCC's goals in the revamp is to cut down on waste, fraud and abuse, as well as costs generally.

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai saw the request for more input as boding ill for "real reform." He said that it "doubles down" on "arbitrarily favoring some technologies over others," and that rather than streamlining administrative processes, such proposals would actually saddle teachers and librarians with even more paperwork. 

Pai also said that, rather than seeking more comment through a notice, the FCC should have offered up proposals in a further notice of proposed rulemaking, at the commission level, which he says he recommended when he first saw the E-rate public notice.

He said not circulating the item at the commission level for a vote "depriv[ed] Commissioners of an opportunity to weigh in on an issue" that President Obama has described as "a new challenge for America—one that families, businesses, school districts and the federal government can rally around together.”

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.