The FCC has approved a funding grant that will bring WiFi to more schools. The $2 billion influx has come under fire, and likely won’t leave key groups happy. Still, the FCC is pushing forward with improving Internet access to schools nationwide.
“Because of what we do today, 10 million kids will be connected next year who otherwise wouldn’t. That’s something to be proud of” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The $2 billion will be spent over the next two years, with no plan beyond that. Though popular internally at the FCC, it has been met with widespread criticism elsewhere.
Both Republican and Democratic leaders condemn the move for damaging either the Universal Service Fund (USF) or E-Rate program. The USF is government subsidy tacked onto phone bills, which help with telecommunication services in rural areas. The E-Rate program funds Internet access to schools, and is part of the USF.
Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai says the FCC “has forfeited this opportunity for real, bipartisan reform of the E-Rate program. Real reform would have meaningfully simplified the application process. It would have ended the unfair treatment of small, rural schools and libraries.” The program gave out $2.2 billion for Internet connectivity in Schools and Libraries last year.
Joining the bipartisan outcry is the national PTA, as well as teachers unions. Both wanted increased funding to the E-Rate program ahead of this grant. E-Rate covers more than simply WiFi, which is what this $2 billion grant is focussed on. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said “this is not just a matter of getting schools and libraries connected — it’s a matter of our global competitiveness.”
The FCC said the program will be covered by unused funds and administrative cost-cutting measures.