Rockefeller: Expand the E-Rate Fund

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's announcement of a revamp of the E-Rate program to boost investment in high-speed broadband and migrate the subsidy away from low-band legacy communications drew applause and advice Feb. 5 after he outlined his plans at a speech in Washington.

The E-Rate program funds advanced telecom to schools and libraries.

One of the architects of the program, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), said he appreciated Wheeler's commitment to modernize the program, but said he believed any such revamp must include increasing funding.

Wheeler said in his speech that if that was necessary, the FCC would do what was necessary, and that there was no higher priority at the FCC than getting high-speed broadband to schools and libraries.

"While I welcome Chairman Wheeler’s announcement today of an important down payment for our students’ future, I strongly believe any update of E-Rate also must devote additional long-term support to the program," Rockefeller said. "The case for increasing E-Rate support already has been made. For more than a decade, demand for E-Rate support by our Nation’s schools and libraries has outstripped supply by two-to-one."

An E-Rate architect while in the House, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also put in a word for expansion.

“I applaud Chairman Wheeler’s commitment to making school and library connectivity a priority at the Commission,” said Markey, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC. “The original E-Rate legislation I authored when I served in the House has linked up nearly all schools and libraries to the Internet, paving the way for the FCC’s efforts to modernize the program for the 21st century. E-Rate ensured all kids had access to the Internet, and now we must maintain our technological edge in education through faster connections to accommodate today’s Internet offerings. Now is the time to expand and accelerate high-speed connections to ensure that all Americans—both young and old—have the digital skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy.”

Republicans in the House have been arguing against expanding the fund, at least without a thorough cost-benefit analysis.

The LEAD Commission, which was created by the FCC and Department of Education to promote student access to technology, applauded both the Wheeler announcement and the President's announced expansion of his ConnectED initiative, of which the E-Rate revamp is a part.

"As our recent poll shows, voters overwhelmingly support efforts like those announced this week by President Obama and the FCC to expand high-speed broadband access to 99 percent of schools within five years in order to improve education," said the commission. "We strongly support those efforts and commend FCC chairman Tom Wheeler for his continued work to reform the E-Rate program in order to expand access for all students.”

“We commend chairman [Tom] Wheeler and the administration for their commitment to making the E-Rate program more effective and efficient," said CenturyLink's executive vice president Steve Davis. "CenturyLink has long been a strong supporter of bringing high-speed Internet access to schools and libraries. We look forward to working with the FCC on the ConnectED initiative and on how we can best continue delivering broadband to thousands of schools and libraries in our territory.”

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.