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FCC's Pai: E-Rate Proposal Would Slash Connectivity Funding

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai says the way he adds it up, chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed revamp of E-Rate funding to boost wireless access comes out of current connectivity funds, depriving schools of the "flexibility to meet local needs."

That came in a statement on the eve of the FCC's planned vote on the proposal, which Pai has already given a failing grade.

"By slashing funds available for Internet connectivity," he said, "the program will likely provide many American students with 'Wi-Fi to nowhere.'”

Here is how Commissioner Pai crunched the numbers:

• "Over the next five years, the FCC’s Wi-Fi proposal would cut over $2.7 billion ($2,716,652,262) in funding available for Internet connectivity for schools and libraries.

• "In Year 3, the proposal would cut over $645 million ($645,658,643) or 27% of funds available for Internet connectivity.

• "In Year 4, the proposal would cut over $985 million ($985,937,579) or 39% of funds available for Internet connectivity.

• "In Year 5, the proposal would cut over $1.085 billion ($1,085,056,039) or 41% of funds available for Internet connectivity.

• "Because of these spending cuts, many rural schools would lose all of their funding for Internet connectivity in Years 3 through 5."

Pai said those projections, from numbers provided by FCC staff, "validate the concerns of congressional leaders of both parties that the proposal’s promises would come out of funding available today for Internet connectivity."

Congressional Democrats as well as Republicans have expressed concerns that the proposal could jeopardize the program, with the Republicans focused on not expanding the fund and Democrats on not migrating it to Wi-Fi in a way that compromises connectivity. Both are concerned on the impact on rural vs. urban schools and libraries.

“Our goal for modernizing E-rate is to ensure that it delivers all the benefits that 21st Century technology can bring to students and library patrons," said an FCC spokesman. "While we cannot discuss details of our Order as we work toward a final draft, suffice it to say that our goal remains the same.“

An FCC official on background said that they did not know what assumptions Pai was using and that the item remains under discussion.