updated 03:56 pm EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Extra $2B Wi-Fi fund offered on top of existing E-Rate program
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved a $2 billion fund to help provide Wi-Fi equipment to schools to create wireless networks. The fund, on top of the existing E-Rate program within the Universal Service Fund (USF), came under criticism from teachers unions, schools, and other groups before being approved today by a vote of 3-2.
"Because of what we do today, 10 million kids will be connected next year who otherwise wouldn't. That's something to be proud of," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Recode reports the $2 billion fund is to be spent over the next two years and sits on top of the $2.25 billion annual E-Rate fund, though the FCC has not guaranteed future funds to keep these networks running in the following years.
The National PTA and a number of teachers unions were unhappy with the fund, preferring the expansion of the E-Rate fund, which provides general telecommunications service funds, instead of one set just for Wi-Fi. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was unhappy about the limited E-Rate funding, stating "I hope that going forward we will have the courage to fix this," and claiming it to be a "matter of our global competitiveness." E-Rate funding was capped 16 years ago to its current rate, and has not been adjusted for inflation.
Two Republican Commissioners voted against the fund, partly over the USF's expanding cost, partly over how E-Rate operates overall. The FCC "forfeited this opportunity for real, bipartisan reform of the E-Rate Program," claimed Commissioner Ajit Pai, continuing "Real reform would have meaningfully simplified the application process. It would have ended the unfair treatment of small, rural schools and libraries."
The Chairman also had his say over the funding dilemma, with Wheeler claiming it would "be a mistake to simply add money to a program that was set in the 20th century." Wheeler acknowledges that the FCC should be looking at the problems with funding the programs.