The Federal Communications Commission held an open forum on the E-rate program May 8 to explore concerns about the potential for waste, fraud and abuse in the program and whether it promoted adequate competitive bidding.
Four commissioners, including Chairman Michael Powell, attended at least part of the three-hour session. Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, who serves as chairman of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, organized the forum, which featured two panels with representatives of various E-rate stakeholder groups.
The commissioners all expressed strong support for the program, and used the session to raise questions about various proposals for improving it. Powell noted at the outset that "to defraud the E-rate program is to steal from our children." Children, he noted, are taught that if they steal, they will be punished. "If you defraud the E-rate program, you will be punished."
Many of the issues that were explored during the forum are the subject of a new Notice of Proposed Rule-making recently released by the commission. Topics that were discussed included:
- Revising the discount matrix so that applicants are required to pay a larger share of the cost of services, particularly internal connections;
- Whether the Form 470 was a useful device for promoting competitive bidding;
- Whether applicants should be able to receive support for internal connections for the same schools every year they applied;
- How the Schools and Libraries Division could simplify its application procedures;
- How the eligible services list could be turned into a more useful application and compliance tool.
Funds For Learning President Orin Heend was among the panelists participating on the panel on waste, fraud and abuse. A copy of Funds For Learning's written statement is available by clicking here.