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Chairman Response Regarding E-Rate Modernization

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Released: August 22, 2014
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FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

WASHINGTON

August 11, 2014

OFFICE OF

THE CHAIRMAN

The Honorable Kelly Ayotte

United States Senate

144 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Ayotte

Thank you for sharing your views on the importance of modernizing the E-rate program

to provide high-speed broadband to and within all of our nation's schools and libraries. Your

letter urges the Commission to take meaningful reform that distributes E-rate funds more

equitably, simplifies the application process, and gives schools greater flexibility to spend funds

on technologies that directly benefit students. Your views are very important and will be

included in the record of the proceeding and considered as part of the Commission1S review.

Since its creation as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the E-rate program has

provided crucial support to meet the technology needs of schools and libraries. But just as

technology and teaching have evolved over the past two decades, so too must E-rate. The

technology tools that supported the educational needs of the Class of 1998 bear virtually no

resemblance to those the Classes of 2015 and beyond need to succeed in the 21 st century. I am

committed to ensuring that theE-rate program evolves to meet the demands ofthe 21 51 century

by supporting high-speed broadband both to and within schools and libraries. Schools need this

broadband to take advantage of digital learning technologies, and libraries need to provide their

patrons with high-speed access to the Internet.

I completely agree with your view that "[t]he intent ofE-Rate is to provide rural, urban,

and suburban students the same access to quality communications services." That is exactly why

the Order adopted by the Commission at our July Open Meeting takes significant steps to

modernize theE-rate program by addressing the Wi-Fi gap in America's schools and libraries.

We established an annual funding target of $1 billion for Wi-Fi, as well as a fairer method for

distributing funds so that all schools and libraries can benefit, including more rural schools and

libraries in New Hampshire. Given that 40 percent of classrooms nationwide are not currently

Wi-Fi-enabled, and nearly two-thirds of schools indicate that they do not have sufficient Wi-Fi

capacity to meet their digital learning needs, it is critically important that we focus our limited

program resources on connectivity, not only to the school or library, but also to the student or

library patron. The Order funds support for Wi-Fi through the combination of funds already

available for this purpose and savings associated with transitioning support from non-broadband

services to broadband. At the same time, the Order ensures that adequate funding will be

available for broadband connectivity to schools and libraries and seeks further comment on the

long-term funding needs of the program.

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Page 2-The Honorable Kelly Ayotte

Consistent with your suggestions to simplify the application process, the Order makes

several changes to help make the E-rate processes faster, simpler, and more efficient for all

stakeholders and provide schools with greater flexibility on technologies that directly benefit

students. The Order streamlines the application process by simplifying review of multi-year

contracts, expediting small dollar, cost-effective applications, speeding review of all

applications, requiring electronic filing, and enabling direct connections between schools and

libraries.

Moreover, to make E-rate dollars go further, the Order adopts transparency measures to

provide applicants with the pricing and connectivity data needed to make smart purchasing

decisions. The Order also encourages consortia purchasing to drive down prices and ensures

that applicants are selecting from the best possible bids through the lowest corresponding price

rule.

The Order is a common sense, responsible step in theE-rate modernization process. We

are targeting already available funds to meet the greatest current needs, we are getting as much

as we can out of every E-rate dollar, and we are formally and expeditiously investigating the

appropriate funding level for this program, based upon the steps we have taken to improve its

structure and administration. But there is still more work to do.

E-rate modernization is one of the most important issues before the Commission today.

We have an opportunity to make a real, positive difference in the lives of millions of students. I

look forward to working with you and your colleagues toward our mutual goal of increased

access to high-speed broadband in our nation's schools and libraries.

Thank you again for your interest in this important matter. Please do not hesitate to

contact me if you have any further concerns.

Sincerely,

);;~

Tom Wheeler

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