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Thune to Wheeler: Postpone E-Rate Vote

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has joined Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) in warning FCC chairman Tom Wheeler about his planned vote on E-Rate reforms.

That is the subsidy for advanced telecom to schools and libraries.

"If Chairman Wheeler is unable to move forward with reforms that have the bipartisan support of his FCC colleagues, he should postpone Friday’s scheduled vote and work to achieve such an outcome later this summer," Thune said in advance of the planned vote Friday. "Moving forward in a partisan manner, relying on untested budget assumptions, and shifting E-Rate’s priority from connectivity to Wi-Fi will only erode the Chairman’s and FCC’s stature, and potentially jeopardize support for E-Rate.”

Republican commissioner Ajit Pai has signaled his disaffection with the proposal, giving it an "F," strongly suggesting the vote will not be bipartisan or unanimous.

Thune, like Rockefeller and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who wrote Wheeler with their concerns, is concerned about the migration of funding to Wi-Fi.

“Since Chairman Wheeler first announced his $5 billion Wi-Fi stimulus proposal, I have been concerned that he cannot realistically expect to pay for it without forcing Americans to pay more for communications services or diverting E-Rate funds that support necessary connectivity in our nation’s schools, particularly in rural areas," said Thune. "While I disagree with some of my Democrat colleagues who believe the FCC should simply increase the existing cap on E-Rate funding, they are correct that Wi-Fi’s ‘impact cannot be felt where there is no broadband to support it.’ [that language is from the Markey/Rockefeller letter] I also share the National Education Association’s opposition to raiding Priority I E-Rate funds to support Wi-Fi."