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Pai Praised for Schools, Libraries Broadband Efforts

Backers of broadband to schools and other anchor institutions sent FCC chair Ajit Pai a fan letter this week.

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According to a copy of the letter, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition "sav[ing] schools and libraries and the American consumer millions of dollars, while improving the digital connectivity for students and teachers across the country."

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But while the letter spent much time praising those efforts, including the competitive bidding process for handing out those broadband buildout funds, it also had another purpose--to counter the petition by some incumbent providers from prohibiting E-rate dollars for buildouts to schools or libraries where they "claim" they already provide service, regardless of how much they charge for the service.

The head of the Universal Service Administrative Co., which administers broadband subsidies under the Universal Service Fund, has said that E-Rate fund recipients can overbuild existing fiber plant with wide area networks (WANS) if it is the most cost-effective use of the subsidy to get advanced communications to schools and libraries, even if high-cost USF subsidies have already been used by carriers to lay fiber to those anchor institutions.

Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly, for one, is no fan of such E-rate overbuilds.

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The coalition does not agree.

"If the traditional incumbent providers receive high-cost support to build fiber-based broadband networks in their area, then logic would tell us that these companies should be able to offer extremely competitive pricing to the schools and libraries in the competitive bidding process," it told Pai, but added that is not the case. "Unfortunately, school districts and library systems often find that the incumbent provider submits bids at prices that are much higher than the rates offered by competitors, if they bid at all."

"[R]educing the competitive bidding analysis to one dimension – whether or not fiber already exists – would ignore not only the price of the services, but also other qualitative factors that are vitally important," they said, including the age of the fiber, the reliability history, customer service, accurate billing, and more.