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Senate Dems Diss Pai's E-Rate Report Withdrawal

Democratic senators hammered FCC Chairman Ajit Pai over his decision to rescind a report on the successes of the FCC's E-rate program, one of several actions late in his predecessor's tenure (Jan. 18, two days before FCC

Chairman Tom Wheeler's exit) that the new chairman rolled back in his first days in office, signaling it did not reflect the official views of the agency.

The topic of E-rate and the report is likely to come up in Wednesday's Senate Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing with Pai and the other commissioners.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was the author of the E-rate program--a subsidy for advanced telecom to schools and libraries--as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act--led a group of a dozen senators who said they were worried about what the report's pullback meant for the future of the program.

"Your actions threaten to roll back progress made in all of these states and disrupt schools and libraries’ carefully planned multi-year budgets," they wrote. "Accordingly, we call on you to guarantee that this treasured program will not be undermined in any way under your watch.”

They cited the benefits of the program--increasing the number of students connected to the 'net and expanding funding for Wi-Fi nets, helping low-income and rural communities--Pai has signaled that rural broadband access will be a priority at the new commission.

"Your decision to retract these facts and eliminate the report is worrying to us, who support this vital program," they said.

Also signing on to the letter were Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeffery Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

An FCC official said on background that the chairman continues to support the E-rate program and continued investment in next gen tech for students and library patrons, but that the report was rescinded because it was released without notifying the commissioners and without coordinating it with the appropriate staffers.

He said the rescission was because the report reflected the views of its drafter, rather than of the agency.

The report remains available on the FCC Web site.