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Senate Moves to Rein in E-rate Administration

The Senate March 24 passed an amendment to the fiscal 1998 supplemental appropriations bill that would require the Federal Communications Commission to propose by May 8 a revised structure with a single entity to administer its new universal service programs for schools, libraries and rural health care providers.

Currently, the E-rate program is administered by the Schools and Libraries Corporation and the rural telemedicine program is administered by the Rural Health Care Corporation. The new entity would be limited to implementing FCC rules and processing applications, and could not interpret the intent of Congress or any FCC rules without consulting the commission.

The measure also would cap the salaries of officers or employees of the new entity at Level I of the Executive Schedule or $151,800. Currently, SLC CEO Ira Fishman and Chief Operating Officer Kate Moore earn salaries that are higher than that.

The bill would also require the FCC to provide detailed information about how much had been requested by schools and libraries for telecommunications services, internal connections and Internet access during the 75-day initial filing window and a breakdown of the amounts requested by each category and discount level listed in the FCC's matrix that defines the applicable discount levels.

One provision that was deleted from the version reported out of committee would have required the FCC to "prioritize assistance on the basis of need." The original version had said: "In determining need under this section, the commission shall make funds available for distance delivery education programs where advanced learning technologies are not otherwise available at affordable rates." While the precise impact of that provision was unclear, some observers said it might have forced the FCC to give priority to schools that were less well developed technologically or located in places where telecommunications services and Internet access were more expensive.

Last month, the General Accounting Office concluded that the FCC had violated the 1945 Government Corporation Control Act when it created the two corporations because they had not been specifically authorized by Congress.

The measure will not become law until it is approved by both chambers of Congress.

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