FCC approves plan to spend $1B a year on school Wi-Fi

Republican commissioners continue to question where the money will come from

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has voted to spend US$2 billion over the next two years on improving Wi-Fi networks at schools and libraries, despite questions from Republican commissioners about the source of those funds.

The FCC, in a 3-2 party-line vote Friday, approved a plan to revamp the 17-year-old E-Rate program, which pays for telecom services for schools and libraries, by phasing out funding for voice service, Web hosting and paging services, and redirecting money to Wi-Fi. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had proposed a $5 billion budget for Wi-Fi, but Republican commissioners and some lawmakers had questioned where the money would come from.

Still, the E-Rate revamp approved Friday contemplates a $1 billion-a-year target for Wi-Fi projects "year after year," Wheeler said. The commitment of $1 billion for Wi-Fi in 2015 means that "10 million students are going to experience new and better opportunities," he added.

In past years, the money available for E-Rate Wi-Fi projects varied from year to year, with no money available in the past year, FCC officials have said. The new approach would give schools and libraries a better idea of what money will be available, they said.

But the budget doesn't make sense, with only about $600 million in reserves in the E-Rate program, said Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai. "The numbers for the Wi-Fi didn't add up," he said. "Where will that money come from?"

The phaseout of obsolete telecom services in the E-Rate program will pay for the Wi-Fi program, said Jon Wilkins, the FCC's acting managing director. The cost savings from phasing out voice and other old services will amount to $350 million in 2015 and will rise to $950 million in the fifth year of the program, he said.

Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly also criticized the E-Rate revamp as missing an opportunity to streamline the $2.4-billion-a-year program and take away some of the complexity for schools and libraries applying for funds. The program's 17-page application scares off small schools and libraries that can't afford to hire outside consultants to fill out paperwork, Pai said.

The FCC promised schools, teachers and students "E-Rate modernization," Pai said. "They need real reform. What does the FCC give them today? The status quo."

O'Rielly called on the FCC to develop a long-term plan for the E-Rate budget, paid for with fees on consumer telephone bills. He predicted the plan would lead to higher phone taxes.

"It always seems to be easier for some people to take more money from American people via taxes and fees, rather than do the hard work," he said. "If more money is justified for E-Rate, let's dig in and find offsets, not stick it to hardworking poor and middle-class Americans."

Several groups praised the FCC's E-Rate plan. Wheeler's plan uses E-Rate funding "in a balanced and integrated way to deliver true high speed Internet service to schools and libraries," David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president, wrote in a blog post.

"The ultimate goal that everyone shares is to improve educational achievement," Cohen wrote. "And connected classrooms and libraries -- and just as importantly, homes -- are essential for student success in the 21st century."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags governmentregulationwirelessNetworkingcomcastU.S. Federal Communications CommissionWLANs / Wi-FiTom WheelerAjit PaiDavid CohenMichael O’RiellyJon Wilkins

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?