Markey and Blumenthal Lead Group of 12 Senators in Urging FCC to Protect E-Rate Program

E-Rate Program helps ensure neediest schools and libraries have affordable Internet access

Washington (March 7, 2017) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today led a group of twelve senators in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect the E-Rate Program. By ensuring the neediest schools and libraries have affordable internet access, the E-Rate Program has given students access to modern teaching tools that expand their knowledge and prepare them to enter the 21st century workforce. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s recent decision to retract a report detailing the E-Rate Program’s success has stirred concern that the new administration will not support the vital program. Senator Markey is the House author of the original E-Rate program, which was created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

“E-Rate helps schools and libraries in every state by supporting access to modern communications and the Internet. Such access is critical if we are a country that is serious about preparing and educating our children for the digital age,” write the Senators. “The simple truth is that E-Rate has been nothing but extremely successful in helping schools and libraries in all 50 states have access to vital funding that ensures that kids in schools and libraries have high-speed Internet access and wireless connectivity. Your actions threaten to roll back progress made in all of these states and disrupt schools and libraries’ carefully planned multi-year budgets. Accordingly, we call on you to guarantee that this treasured program will not be undermined in any way under your watch.”

 

U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeffery Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Penn,) signed today’s letter. Full text of the letter is below.

 

 

Dear Chairman Pai:

 

            We write because we have serious reservations about your recent decision to set aside, rescind, and retract the “E-Rate Modernization Progress Report” authored by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff. This report was replete with facts showing how the 2014 E-Rate Modernization Orders have helped expand support for Wi-Fi, connect more schools to fiber, and bring financial stability for our neediest schools and libraries. Your decision to retract these facts and eliminate the report is worrying to us, who support this vital program. 

 

The E-Rate program is one of the enduring legacies of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The E-Rate program has helped ensure that the neediest schools and libraries have affordable access to the Internet. In 2014, the FCC adopted the two E-Rate Modernization Orders. These orders updated E-Rate for the broadband era – modernizing and streamlining the process, and expanding funding for Wi-Fi networks. These changes have already increased the numbers of students connected throughout the country, including in rural areas, giving them access to modern teaching tools that expand their knowledge and prepare them to enter the 21st century workforce. There’s also more money for Wi-Fi, with nearly 50,000 schools and libraries receiving Wi-Fi support in 2015, compared to zero in funding the years prior.

 

E-Rate has brought enormous benefits to students and library patrons across the country – especially in low-income or rural communities. You recently received a letter from Senator Nelson, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, reiterating some of the important facts about E-Rate progress. We would also like to draw your attention to some additional facts:

 

  • Schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut are receiving about $1.6 million this school year for high-speed Internet and wireless access points. Before this upgrade, teachers have said they were hesitant to leverage connected learning opportunities for fear of a spotty connection.

 

  • For the Kansas City, Kansas School District, E-Rate has supported the district’s purchase of millions of dollars’ worth in bandwidth and connectivity hardware. Joe Fives, the director of technology and information services for the district, has said, “We can’t go backward. We’re light years ahead of where we were.”[1]

 

  • Over the past two years, the E-Rate program has committed $73.8 million of assistance to over 1,000 schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seeking to provide internet access to their students.

 

  • Schools are getting better and cheaper high-speed Internet service. As described in an article in Education Week about a school district in Mississippi: “For years, the superintendent of the 2,500-student Calhoun County schools has been charged outrageous rates for Internet service so slow his teachers couldn’t get online to take attendance. But following the FCC’s overhaul of a program known as E-rate, the district’s fortunes had abruptly turned.” Mike Moore, the superintendent of this district said, “Until we talked about building our own line, I don’t think [the companies] were serious. Washington gave us leverage.” [2]

 

  • David Davis, the director of technology for Scottsbluff Public Schools in far western Nebraska, has said, because of E-Rate, “Now, there are fewer dead spots, and with higher bandwidth access points, our students and teachers can access content on the Internet much faster.”[4] This school district received 38% more funding in 2015, than 2013.

 

  • In 2015, New Jersey received nearly $87 million from E-Rate, helping to connect 161 libraries to high-speed Internet.

 

  • New Mexico aims to bring high-speed Internet access to every classroom by 2018, with a state initiative and local match funding for schools that rely on E-Rate investments.[5]

 

  • Oregon's 226 school districts received nearly $25 million in E-Rate funding in 2015 making it the third largest source of education funding coming into the state.  Over 80 percent of school districts in Oregon received some such funding. The total amount of funding for 2016 is expected to exceed $36 million as the E-Rate funds are utilized to expand and/or enhance connectivity in rural areas in the state.

 

  • The Wayne Highlands School District in Northeast Pennsylvania has utilized Category Two E-rate funding to install 320 wireless access points—one in every classroom in the district. In this rural corner of the state, a region where broadband is too often a scarce commodity, the E-rate program has allowed the school district to redesign its technological infrastructure and provide students with the high-speed, wireless instructional strategies of the 21st Century.[6]

 

  • The state of Texas received $314 million in E-Rate funding in 2015 – nearly double what it received in 2013 before E-Rate modernization.

 

Please also find enclosed a spreadsheet showing just how much E-Rate modernization has benefited states nationwide. E-Rate helps schools and libraries in every state by supporting access to modern communications and the Internet. Such access is critical if we are a country that is serious about preparing and educating our children for the digital age.

 

The simple truth is that E-Rate has been nothing but extremely successful in helping schools and libraries in all 50 states have access to vital funding that ensures that kids in schools and libraries have high-speed Internet access and wireless connectivity. Your actions threaten to roll back progress made in all of these states and disrupt schools and libraries’ carefully planned multi-year budgets. Accordingly, we call on you to guarantee that this treasured program will not be undermined in any way under your watch.