FCC dedicates $2B to bring broadband to schools, libraries

The FCC is doubling down on the investment to connect schools and libraries by allocating $2 billion over the next two years to support broadband service. An estimated 20 million students in at least 15,000 schools will get access to a broadband connection through the expanded program.

To fund these new investments, the FCC said it will redirect existing E-Rate funds to focus on high capacity Internet connectivity, while increasing efficiency and modernizing management of the E-Rate program.

"We will take a business-like approach to the management of the program, identifying opportunities to improve the ways funds are deployed and streamlining the process for schools and libraries," said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, in a release.

Wheeler's move follows a proceeding the regulator began last July to figure out ways to revamp the 18-year old E-Rate program. Although E-rate has connected 97 percent of U.S. libraries and schools to basic Internet, the FCC estimates that only about half of E-Rate funds are used to purchase broadband services.

Not long after Wheeler became the FCC's chairman in October, he began a review of the program on how it can better satisfy the needs of schools and libraries.

Allocating more money for broadband connections is just one piece of a broader effort to modernize the E-Rate program. The regulator also wants to create more efficiency by streamlining the application process and increasing transparency while providing more assistance to schools and libraries to help them lower the prices they pay. It will also increase oversight and enforcement in the program to ensure that eligible libraries and schools get the money they need.

However compelling Wheeler's plans are, they are facing some push back from Republicans who have requested a cost analysis the new E-Rate program plans.

A particular concern lawmakers expressed in a recent letter sent to Wheeler is the rising cost to run the E-Rate program.

"The contribution factor for the overall fund has already jumped from 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009 to 16.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, an increase that is passed along to consumers," the legislators wrote.  

For more:
- see the release

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