Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) plans to concentrate on expanding the FCC's E-Rate program when he questions Tom Wheeler at his nomination hearing for FCC chairman on Tuesday, according to a commerce committee aide on background.
E-Rate, which Rockefeller helped create, is the FCC mandate to provide affordable access to cutting edge telecommunications service to schools and libraries (), with that subsidy coming out of the Universal Service Fund.
President Obama announced a ConnectED initiative two weeks ago with a goal of getting the FCC to "leverage and modernize" the E-Rate program and to connect 99% of students to high-speed wired and wireless broadband (speeds of no less than 100 Mbps and preferably 1 Gbps) within five years.
"Updating the E-Rate program is critical to helping students become competitive in the global economy," said Rockefeller in a statement to the press. "Particularly in our rural and urban communities, we have a moral obligation to give our young ones the tools to succeed."
Rockefeller also will suggest that the FCC needs to be a more aggressive, consumer-focused agency. Even as Wheeler is being grilled on E-Rate, Rockefeller's choice for chair, his former telecom aide Jessica Rosenworcel will be in California speaking about boosting E-Rate, which has also been one of her key issues.
In his prepared testimony for the hearing, Wheeler sounds like he is on the same page when it comes to improving the E-Rate program. "It doesn't make sense that 80% of E-Rate schools report the available bandwidth is below their instructional needs," he said.