On March 12, 2013, the Senate Commerce Committee held an oversight hearing on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). While much of the hearing was devoted to other issues, the E-rate was an important topic discussed. The Commissioners agreed with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Rockefeller that the program not only needs to be preserved, but strengthened and modernized to deal with 21st century education. Senator Rockefeller stated “…simply put, we need to create E-rate. 2.0.” He further argued that “…by the end of the decade every school in America should have 1 Gigabit of connectivity…”
To date, no E-rate related reform bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress, which started in January 2013. However, the FCC can create many reforms without Congressional action. Since starting to implement the National Broadband Plan Agenda in 2010, many new program rules and regulations have been issued based on the Broadband Plan. I expect the FCC to continue to reform and update the E-rate program over the coming months.
In December 2011, Congress exempted Universal Service from the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) but only provided for a two year exemption, which expires on December 31, 2013. While the ADA exemption was not discussed at the hearing today, many in the education community would like to see a permanent exemption passed this year.