Skip to main content

Rockefeller, Markey Concerned With FCC's E-Rate Revamp

Two of the co-authors of the E-Rate subsidy program have cautioned FCC chairman Tom Wheeler not to move too much money to wireless support if it means "cannibalizing" funding for basic connectivity, and suggest any Wi-Fi funding migration be a two-year test-project.

The subsidy provides funds—paid by telecoms and, ultimately their customers—for advanced telecommunications to schools and libraries.

In a letter to the chairman, Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) praised his plans for cutting red tape and updating the program, but said they had "serious concerns" about some aspects of the proposal, which will move billions of dollars to support Wi-Fi services and phase out traditional support for non-broadband services.

They said they agreed Wi-Fi could be a boon, but that its impact could not be felt if there were no broadband to support it. They said changes to the fund should be "carefully balanced. Efforts to make Wi-Fi technology ubiquitous in our schools and libraries cannot come at the expense of the already limited funding that keeps these institutions connected."

They also warn against using per-student or per-square-foot funding calculations. They say they are opposed to the use of those mechanisms in "any aspect of E-Rate." The senators add that their concerns are shared by schools and libraries, urban and rural.

A number of educational groups, including teachers unions and the PTA, have expressed concerns with the Wi-Fi migration and phase-out of traditional support, as has Ajit Pai, the senior Republican on the FCC. Pai has said he is worried that rural schools and libraries will get less than urban.

A vote is scheduled for Friday on the proposed revamp of the E-Rate subsidy, though an FCC official said the chairman was still considering input on the item.

Wheeler has said that expanding E-Rate to Wi-Fi connectivity "will empower students and library patrons to use the latest education technology to access new learning opportunities and infinite worlds of information.”