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House E&C Republicans Pan E-Rate Proposal

House Energy & Commerce Committee leaders have told FCC chairman Tom Wheeler that any effort to expand the size of the E-Rate subsidy is a non-starter.

The FCC is planning to vote on a Wheeler-led revamp of the E-Rate program Friday. The program, subsidized by telecom companies—and ultimately rate-payers—provides advanced telecommunications to schools and libraries. In this case, Wheeler wants to boost investment in wireless broadband in an effort to migrate it from traditional service.

In a letter to Wheeler, House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said they were concerned by reports the FCC planned to grow the Universal Service Fund E-Rate subsidy beyond its current $9 billion "on the back of rate-payers."

Wheeler has argued that the revamp will mean getting wireless broadband to millions more kids, rural as well as urban.

They urged the chairman to "modernize the fund to bring our nation's students the twenty-first century tools they need to succeed without increasing the ever-growing burden of USF on rate-payers."

The FCC has gotten pushback from divergent sources on the E-Rate proposal, including teachers unions, the PTA, and even its co-creators, Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), though they want the fund to be expanded, just not to fund Wi-Fi at the expense of existing service.

Another critic is FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. The letter from Upton and Walden follows a statement issued by Pai earlier in the day saying, essentially, that the E-Rate math did not add up, and outlining the projections on which he bases that assertion.

The chairman's office was preparing a response at press time.

John Eggerton
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.