FCC approves $2B E-Rate changes aimed at improving broadband and Wi-Fi for schools, libraries

The FCC voted to move forward on a proposal that is intended to modernize the subsidy program that supports Internet access for public schools and libraries, commonly known as E-Rate. The changes will drive $2 billion toward the effort, including funding for Wi-Fi in schools. The agency also established a budget for rural broadband experiments.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the E-Rate changes.

"We're at a watershed moment," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during the vote, according to Bloomberg. "Because of what we do today 10 million kids will be connected next year who otherwise wouldn't. That's a good day's work."

Some had opposed the move over worries it would lead to increases in phone bills for U.S. consumers, and that it wasn't an effective use of funds.

In a June blog post, Wheeler cited the need for reform to meet the new "realities of the Internet" that include tablets and other personal devices connected to broadband via Wi-Fi.

Wheeler's E-Rate proposal is part of a multi-year transition of E-Rate funding that will, he wrote, move away from dial-up services and address the need for "broadband to every classroom" by simplifying the application process for schools and libraries.

"The simple fact of the matter is that the free market has failed to provide basic broadband connectivity to more than 15 million Americans," Wheeler wrote in the June blog. "We cannot leave rural America behind."

Separately, the agency voted to fund experiments geared toward improving connectivity in rural America as part of the Connect America Fund. The agency is providing up to $100 million to fund experiments aimed at improving rural broadband speeds and lowering costs.

"A key goal of the experiments is to test this competitive bidding process before it is used to allocate funds more broadly from the Connect America Fund, anticipated to occur later in 2015," the FCC noted.

For more:
- see this Re/code article
- see this TheHill article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this FCC release
- the FCC has this notice
- see this FCC blog entry

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