FCC raises E-rate subsidies to pay for extended education technology program

Consumers and businesses will pay on average $1.90 a year more in telephone taxes to subsidize an expansion and modernization of the FCC's E-rate program to support education technology.

The FCC action, which raises a funding cap that had been stuck for 16 years at $2.25 billion a year to $3.9 billion, did not come without its share of rancor as it barely squeaked through the commission in a 3-2 vote divided along political lines.

On the supporting side, Democrat Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler pointed out that "the greatest moral responsibility that any generation has is the preparation of the next generation," according to a US News story.

Republican Ajit Pai, in turn, argued that the subsidy increase would be carried by families already being dinged by a bad economy and that the subsidy system encourages wasteful spending by giving some schools and libraries as much as a 90 percent discount on technologies.

"It's just common sense. The less of your own money you have to put in, the more of others' money you going to demand. And that means that plenty of other worthy schools and libraries are going to lose out because there won't be any money left for them," Pai said in the same story.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, not surprisingly, supported the changes, noting that more funding will make it more likely that broadband speeds will reach schools, including 43.5 million more students who will get access to high-speed Wi-Fi, more than 101,000 additional schools and nearly 16,000 libraries.

"With two-thirds of our nation's schools not having the needed connectivity, getting on Wi-Fi in many of our schools is like sucking peanut butter out of a straw," Tom Murray, the Alliance's state and district digital learning director, said in a story carried by industry publication The Journal. "We must close the connectivity gap to be able to close the achievement gap."

His comments were echoed by Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association who said the change "levels the playing field by ensuring students in low income and rural communities gain full access to today's digital learning experience" and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, who called it "the best holiday gift possible for the nation's students and teachers."

Also applauding the decision was EducationSuperHighway CEO Evan Marshall who, in a press release, predicted: "This bold plan of action will ensure the students of today are fully prepared to be the workforce and leaders of tomorrow."

For more:
- the FCC issued this press release
- see this US News story
- The Journal has this story
- Multichannel News has this story
- EducationSuperHighway issued this press release

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