FCC chief to fight for E-Rate funding

Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard today signaled his intent to fight for more funding for the E-Rate program, which was slashed almost in half last year after it fell under congressional fire.

"I will recommend to my fellow commissioners that we not curtail funding this year. Rather, I will recommend that we fund as many schools as we can up to the E-Rate program's cap," Kennard said at a press conference today.

Immediately following Kennard's statement, U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley seconded the notion of upping E-Rate funding to its original amount of $2.25 billion. Riley predicted that 500,000 new classrooms would be hooked to the Internet if the program were funded at its full amount.

In the wake of congressional criticism, FCC last June cut E-Rate funding to $1.7 billion. However, Kennard used a recent opinion poll and a new report (available at www.edlinc.org) on the program to call for restoring full funding levels. The survey indicated about 87 percent of those polled expressed support for federal programs to wire schools and libraries.

"Over 38 million kids -- from the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest to the inner-city neighborhoods of Chicago; from a parochial school in Montana to a yeshiva in Queens -- are now connected to the Internet," Kennard said at a press conference. "They now have access to the information that their inquisitive minds thirst for and are learning the skills they'll need to compete in the 21st century."

Kennard's decision to call for full E-Rate funding is just one sign of movement on the front. "There is a renewed sense of urgency to do something on the E-Rate program," said a spokesman for U.S. Rep. William "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), who has been critical of the methods the FCC uses to fund the E-Rate.

Tauzin plans to re-introduce as early as next week a bill that would reduce an excise tax that feeds the nation's universal telephone service plan and use the balance to fund the E-Rate program up to $1.7 billion, Tauzin's spokesman said.

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