| WASHINGTON, June 20
WASHINGTON, June 20 U.S. Federal Communications
Commission will vote on July 11 on proposed changes to a subsidy
program aimed at improving wireless Internet in schools and
libraries nationwide without spending more, the agency said on
The five-member FCC will vote on Chairman Tom Wheeler's
proposal to begin transitioning the largest U.S. education
technology program, E-Rate, to focus entirely on high-speed
Internet services and to better use its current funding on new
The $2.4 billion E-Rate program is funded by fees Americans
pay on their monthly phone bills and helps schools and libraries
get discounts on Internet services and digital devices, which
some studies have shown help to improve test scores and
Created in 1996, the program has helped connect almost all
U.S. classrooms and public libraries to the Internet, but rules
have limited how much money could fund broadband and Wi-Fi.
Last year, no E-Rate funds were available for Wi-Fi, the FCC
said, and Internet speeds in many U.S. classrooms remain too
slow to support new-generation digital learning.
President Barack Obama last year urged the FCC to expand the
program so that 99 percent of U.S. schools would have access to
high-speed broadband and wireless Internet within five years.
Experts agree that the program, whose applications had been
mired in bureaucracy and funding allocated to outdated
technologies like pagers, needs modernization.
However, disagreements remain about E-Rate's funding cap.
Some education advocates have demanded the FCC increase
E-Rate's funding. Obama's plan suggested a temporary increase in
the phone bill fees that fund E-Rate, but Republicans have
staunchly rejected such calls.
"Instead of throwing more money at the program, we need
actual reform that will get us the most bang for our bucks," FCC
Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, told the Federal
Communications Bar Association on Wednesday.
Wheeler's proposal, which other FCC commissioners will
review and could tweak before the vote, relies on more
streamlined bureaucracy and management and better accounting to
fund E-Rate in the future with a new focus on Internet.
It also reinforces an FCC pledge from February to commit to
Wi-Fi $1 billion in 2015 and another $1 billion in 2016 on top
of regular E-Rate funding through reserves left unused from
previous years, a senior FCC official said.
The FCC would also speed up processing of applications for
multi-year funding or those submitted by school consortiums, and
would set a maximum 4-to-1 matching level for the poorest
schools, with E-Rate providing $4 for each $1 spent by the
school on Wi-Fi services.
E-Rate's funding for Wi-Fi would be allocated depending on
the size of a school's student body, the FCC said.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; editing by Ros Krasny and Richard