FCC's Wheeler Draws Fans With E-Rate Cap Hike

Supporters Point to Need to Bring Schools Into 21st Century

WASHINGTON -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler was getting some kudos from E-Rate advocates for his proposal circulating this week to raise the cap on those subsidies, which fund advanced telecom for schools and libraries.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the retiring House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member, said the E-Rate program was "critical" to the nation's competitiveness, echoing Wheeler's take when he announced was scheduling a vote on the item for the Dec. 11 FCC public meeting.

"Rural and low-income areas must have access to the world class connections they need to take advantage of today’s digital learning tools," Waxman said in a statement. "I urge the FCC to take this next step to put E-Rate on strong footing for generations to come.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who helped create the E-Rate in the 1996 Telecomunications Act, joined Wheeler in a press call Monday to announce the proposal, but also weighed in separately with his unsurprising support.

“E-Rate has proven essential and exceptional in linking up schools and libraries to the Internet,” Markey said in a statement. “The E-Rate program democratizes access to the opportunities and technologies that lead to brighter futures for students, regardless of their economic circumstances. Today’s announcement from the FCC begins a new chapter in the incredibly successful E-rate program, which will enable children to gain the tools and skills necessary to compete and thrive in the 21st century global economy. I applaud Chairman Wheeler’s leadership, and I thank my colleague chairman [Jay] Rockefeller [D-W.Va.] for his decades of commitment to making technology available to everyone.”

Benton Foundation chairman Charles Benton said in a statement that his group welcomed Wheeler’s proposal. “Our children’s future is worth every penny," Benton said. "One of the most important challenges of our generation is to ensure that every child in every classroom — no matter how rural or isolated that classroom — has a chance to succeed and win in the global economy.

Poverty, discrimination, isolation and ignorance hold our country back,” Benton added. “But investments in education infrastructure and technology spur economic growth, creating more good jobs and wealth for all of us, and these investments are especially needed in rural areas. It is in our national interest to ensure that every child — no matter who they are, no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from — has the opportunity to succeed."

Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) CEO Keith Kruege in a statement said Wheeler deserves “immense credit” for his leadership on the issue, adding, “we support imeediate action.”  

“The proposal is a meaningful, critical commitment and long-term investment in America’s students and educators," Kruege said. "By promoting digital equity and strengthening the nation’s education broadband infrastructure, the objectives identified expand the digital capacity in our schools and directly pay dividends for decades.

A CoSN spokesperson pointed out that much of the data Wheeler used to argue for the pressing need to raise the cap came from CoSN's second annual E-rate survey.

In announcing the move, Wheeler said the estimated 16 cents per month, at most, that would be added to consumers' monthly bills to pay for the increased subsidy was only about the price of one soda per year at McDonald's.

Labor union Communications Workers of America agreed that seemed a small price to pay to give kids a first rate digital education.

"High-speed Internet connectivity is critical for 21st century schools and libraries, yet the E-Rate is stuck at 1998 funding levels," the union said in a statement. "Chairman Wheeler's proposed $1.5 billion annual increase in funding for schools and libraries -- which will bring total E-Rate funding to $3.9 billion a year -- will cost consumers a mere 16 cents a month on their phone bills. This is a small price to pay to bring our schools and libraries the high-speed Internet connectivity they need."

Also praising the move were Cisco and the American Library Association.