The FCC voted by 3-2 to re-appropriate E-Rate funds that are used on dated techologies to expand Wi-Fi for schools and libraries. E-Rate taxes consumers of telecommunications services and spends the proceeds on developing technology in classrooms and libraries.
According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the first 1 billion spent on Wi-Fi expansion will benefit 10 million students. The reasoning the FCC applied was that E-Rate funding for Wi-Fi was generally unsteady and was even unavailable throughout 2013.
From the start, the FCC’s proposal to upgrade and expand Wi-Fi services through E-Rate drew both internal and external opposition. Though $5 billion was reportedly up for consideration before being scaled back, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated his esteem for the $2 billion initiative.
“While today’s item does not make all of the changes necessary to achieve each and every goal, it does make noteworthy steps in the right direction,” said Clyburn.
But the E-Rate vote wasn’t unanimous and Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly stated his concern for the initiative, suggesting that the E-Rate program could seek to collect some of the $2 billion for Wi-Fi and high-speed Internet by raising taxes.
“It always seems to be easier for some people to take more money from American people via taxes and fees, rather than do the hard work,” O’Rielly said. “If more money is justified for E-Rate, let’s dig in and find offsets, not stick it to hardworking poor and middle-class Americans.”
FCC Commission Ajit Pai, shared O’Rielly’s sentiments. Even with the E-Rate program’s reported $600 million in reserves and FCC’s plans to redirect the program’s spending away from dated technology, Pai said the numbers didn’t add up.