The FCC recently voted to approve Chairman Tom Wheeler’s updates to the E-Rate program to improve Wi-Fi networks in schools and libraries.
The E-Rate program, which currently has a scaled-back budget of $2 billion from its proposed $5 billion, will expand the number of students with Internet access by millions. Wheeler said he has first-hand experience seeing how students currently need Internet access at their desks in order to succeed.
“Technology has changed, the needs of students and library users have changed, and now E-Rate has changed,” Wheeler said. “No responsible business would stick with an IT plan developed in 1998.”
In order to reach their budget, the FCC plans on using money from unspent funding reserves for the first two years. By the third year, it hopes to have the rest of the budget accounted for by funds from phased-out technologies, writes Gautham Nagesh for The Wall Street Journal.
Still, there are concerns among members that the FCC won’t reach the amount of money it needs to see the plan succeed without raising taxes on phone bills, according to Quinten Plummer for TechTimes.
“The FCC has forfeited this opportunity for real, bipartisan reform of the E-rate program,” said FCC Commission Ajit Pai. “In five months, maybe six, we’ll be back at this table to talk about how much to raise [US consumer phone bills.]”
Education groups like the National Education Association (NEA) worry that the proposal leaves rural and suburban schools that sometimes have no funds for even basic Internet connectivity at a disadvantage .
The program suggests allocating funds to schools based on the number of students and to libraries based on physical size. Some members have brought up concerns that this type of budgeting leaves schools and libraries in higher poverty areas behind, when in fact these are the institutions that need access to a higher amount of funding.
Comcast, which offers low-cost Internet access to more than 1.2 million in an effort to connect more students to the Internet, applauded the FCC’s efforts, writes John Eggerton for Multichannel News.
“We look forward to continuing to work together with the FCC, the Administration, and thousands of nonprofit and local government partners to close the digital divide and get the maximum value from the E-Rate program for America’s schools and libraries,” Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said.
According to West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, co-author of the law that first created the E-Rate program, the next step in the process is to find more funding for the rising cost of Internet.
“Now it’s time for the FCC to roll up its sleeves and work to address the real pressing need—providing much needed additional long-term funding for this important program. I will do my part, and I call on the nation’s teachers, librarians and all those who truly care about the future of our children to do the same,” Mr. Rockefeller said.