| July 11
July 11 The U.S. Federal Communications
Commission will vote on Friday on a proposal intended to
modernize the subsidy program that helps fund Internet access in
public schools and libraries, which has faced criticism from
Republicans and Democrats.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal calls for changes in how
money is spent by E-Rate, the largest U.S. education technology
program, which is funded by fees Americans pay on their phone
The subsidy, created in 1996, has helped connect most U.S.
classrooms and public libraries to the Internet, but rules have
limited how much money could fund broadband and Wi-Fi.
Wheeler's plan, among other things, would transition spending
away from older technologies such as pagers to devote more funds
to Wi-Fi and eventually focus entirely on high-speed Internet
"The new plan will make E-Rate dollars go farther by
creating processes to drive down prices and increase
transparency on how program dollars are spent," Wheeler wrote in
a blog in June.
The FCC chairman's proposal does not seek a budget increase
for the $2.4 billion program.
The standstill budget has drawn fire from labor unions such
as the National Education Association and the American
Federation of Teachers, which said demand far outstrips
Republican FCC commissioners and lawmakers have raised
questions about Wheeler's proposal to redistribute current
funding, and reject any suggestion of a budget increase.
Wheeler plans to use $1 billion from the program's unused
funds in 2015 and another $1 billion in 2016 for Wi-Fi,
allocated to schools and libraries based on their size. After
that, streamlined bureaucracy, better management and other
changes would produce new savings, according to his proposal.
More than 40 CEOs of large U.S. technology companies,
including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Inc and Meg Whitman
of Hewlett-Packard Co, backed Wheeler's plan in a letter
to the FCC, calling it "a significant, fiscally responsible step
A similar letter came from 10 education groups, including
the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
But Democrats and Republicans have raised concerns about how
the FCC plans to meet the new funding promises.
"It would be ill-advised to guarantee a permanent set-aside
for Wi-Fi, if that set-aside could end up cannibalizing funding
for basic Internet connectivity," wrote Senate Commerce
Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and Senator Edward Markey,
the Democrats who helped create the E-Rate program.
Top technology lawmakers in the U.S. House of
Representatives, Republicans Fred Upton and Greg Walden, worried
in turn about the pledges to increase Wi-Fi spending in future
years being grounded not in savings but in plans to later
increase E-Rate's budget.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a former
Rockefeller aide who had called for growth in E-Rate's budget,
could be the swing vote on Friday. The two Republicans on the
five-member FCC have said they do not agree with Wheeler's plan.
Her office did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh in Toronto; Editing by Ros Krasny
and Jan Paschal)