Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 17, 2014

More From Lawmakers Ahead of Friday’s E-Rate Vote

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote Friday on a plan to overhaul the program that provides discounts to schools and libraries for telecommunications and Internet service, and lawmakers have over the past few days continued to voice concerns.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and the Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., wrote Thursday to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, saying that the “numbers don’t seem to add up” in regards to redirecting existing funds to pay for a Wi-Fi proposal. They expressed concerns about the “sustainability of your plans without imposing additional charges on American telecommunications customers’ monthly bills.”

Michigan Democratic senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow also wrote to Wheeler Thursday in a letter stating that they “oppose any proposal that would change the E-Rate distribution mechanism to one that provides funding based on a per-student or per-square foot calculation for Wi-Fi. We also oppose modifying the program’s poverty calculation from school-based to district-based because it is less responsive to meeting the needs of a specific school.”

That letter follows a statement issued Wednesday by the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, John Thune, R-S.D., saying:

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. 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.’ I also share the National Education Association’s opposition to raiding Priority I E-Rate funds to support Wi-Fi.

He was referring to this joint letter from Senate Commerce chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and panel member Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this week.

Thune goes on to write that: “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.”

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