A Friendly Letter From Lawmakers to the FCC
Posted at 2:43 p.m. on June 3, 2014
While some issues before the FCC — such as net neutrality — have spurred deep partisan division on the Hill, at least one issue is uniting Republicans and Democrats. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers wrote to the agency saying they support a modernization of the agency’s E-Rate program, which provides discounts to schools and libraries for telecommunications and Internet services.
The FCC is looking to overhaul the program, which is paid for through the Universal Service Fund. Telecom companies that provide voice service must pay to support the fund.
The lawmakers go on to write that the FCC should:
1. Focus E-rate on broadband services, Wi-Fi updates, and filling the infrastructure gap, with continued support for connectivity services, to ensure universal access to the most up to date technology;
2. Ensure that schools and libraries are paying for the best service at the lowest price through competitive Internet service offerings and purchaser coordination, so that the program’s money is spent smarter and spread wider;
3. Increase transparency and accountability for the program in order to reduce costs, share data collected to improve best practices, and ensure that all students have access to the connectivity they need;
4. Ensure that program rules result in funding stability to improve program efficiency and schools’ financial planning, particularly for broadband connections within schools and libraries (particularly Wi-Fi) where there has been a lack of certainty in the past; and
5. Simplify and streamline the application process.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Republicans haven’t had concerns. In January, GOP leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation panel wrote to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler calling for proposals to expand the E-Rate program to be evaluated by the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service.
“In these fiscal times, it is more important than ever to ensure that money is spent wisely and that these funds are allocated appropriately and effectively,” they wrote in that letter.