Now that the elections are over you may find yourself wondering how the new political and legislative landscape will impact the E-rate program. The outlook remains bright and schools and libraries can continue to rely on the E-rate program funding for critical telecommunications projects. Most policymakers understand that the E-rate program is the largest source of education technology funding and without this resource many of their own constituents may not have access to the Internet which is a critical educational tool.
What are the changes?
Congressman Barton (R-TX), the outgoing Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, made no secret of his displeasure with the E-rate program. He has conducted several hearings about waste, fraud and abuse. Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) will most likely lead the Committee as he has done in the past while Edward Markey (D-MA) is expected to Chair the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee. Both Dingell and Markey have historically been strong advocates of the E-rate program.
There is a view among Democrats that the Republican Congress has not conducted enough rigorous oversight of this Administration. Therefore it is likely that Dingell will hold oversight hearings on the Federal Communications Commission’s activities over the last few years. The FCC is unlikely to make any radical procedural changes to how the E-rate program operates.
Historically, most Senators have been supportive of the E-rate program because of the need to protect the rural interests within their states. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) will be replaced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. Senators Inouye and Stevens have worked together on these issues and no major policy shift is expected for the Senate Commerce Committee.
When Congress returns for the lame duck session they are unlikely to take up any major telecommunications reform measures before adjourning. However, the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) exemption will expire on December 31st if Congress does not act to pass another one-year exemption. The education and communications industries both support the exemption. When the new Congress returns it may be more of a reality that a permanent exemption to the ADA may be enacted. Funds For Learning will continue to keep you informed in the weeks and months ahead.