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FCC E-Rate Reforms Don't Rate With Education Groups

In letter, unions, associations say they could threaten program's sustainability 6/20/2014 06:04:00 PM Eastern

Count the NEA, the PTA, the American Federation of Teachers and a whiteboard full of other education associations as very concerned about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed changes to the E-rate program, which they argue could be a rush to reform that jeopardizes the program.

E-rate is the subsidy for advanced communications services to schools and libraries. The FCC signaled a vote for the July 11 meeting on the reforms, which are part of the FCC's efforts to make wireless more of a player and migrate away from voice subsidies, which will eventually be zeroed out.

Said one industry source, the education groups were looking for more money over a longer period of time than they will be getting. The source suggested it could be Wheeler's next big fight.

According to a copy of the letter, dated June 20, the same day the FCC's tentative agenda was released with the E-rate item on it, the groups have "strong concerns" with changes they say "will only dilute an already over-subscribed E-rate Program by threatening the program’s sustainability and historically successful track record and failing to meet the needs of urban, rural and low-density populated areas."

The groups, who are beneficiaries of the E-rate program, are concerned that the FCC cannot support a five-year, $5 billion investment in WiFi connections without raiding funding for ongoing broadband connectivity.

They also don't like a per-pupil allocation formula for schools, a one-size-fits-all approach that they argue is grossly oversimplified.

The groups said they appreciated the intent of E-rate reform and modernization, but not the current direction.

"Let us not rush into make significant structural changes for the sake of modernization and risk jeopardizing the entire E-rate Program," they told Wheeler.

Signing on to the letter were AASA, The School Superintendents Association; American Federation of Teachers; Association of Educational Service Agencies; Council of the Great City Schools; International Society for Technology in Education; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Federally Impacted Schools; National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Catholic Educational Association; National Education Association; National PTA; National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition; National Rural Education Association.

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