Over the past week, E-rate reform has been a major topic of conversation at the FCC, the White House, and on Capitol Hill.
On January 24, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted a statement regarding E-rate reform which included the following comment:
As part of our top to bottom review of E-Rate, the opportunity has opened to use existing funds to immediately begin to expand E-Rate funding targeted to high-speed connectivity to students in schools and libraries. These additionally available funds will begin to be put to work this year for schools and libraries. This will be done without affecting the program’s existing structures and the 2014 program application process that is now underway.
During the State of Union speech delivered by President Obama on January 28, 2014, the President made a reference back to his ConnectED initiative announced back in June 2013:
Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.
Immediately following the President's State of the Union speech, Chairman Wheeler issued another statement in regards to the E-rate program:
The Federal Communications Commission shares the President’s commitment to seizing the opportunities of digital learning, which is why we’ve already launched an effort to modernize our successful E-Rate program – the nation’s largest education technology program. By applying business-like management practices to E-Rate, we can take steps this year that will make existing funds go farther to significantly increase our investment in high-speed broadband connectivity for schools and libraries for the benefit of our students and teachers. Together, with my fellow Commissioners, Congress, educators and other stakeholders, we can ensure that all of America’s students get a 21st-century education.
On January 30, 2014, House and Senate leaders released an open letter to the FCC regarding E-rate reform. In it, they encouraged the FCC to use the Joint Board on Universal Service to assist with E-rate reform. They are concerned that E-rate reform could potentially raise the contribution factor into the program. This would increase the amount Americans are charged by their telecommunications carriers on their monthly bills.
On February 5th, Chairman Wheeler is scheduled to participate in Digital Learning Day webcast at 11:00am Eastern. It is anticipated that his remarks will include further comments on E-rate reform.