Powell: Leave E-Rate to politicians

Michael Powell, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said he supports the use of E-Rate to enhance technology at schools and libraries, but he suggested it should be "up to the politicians" to decide how the program should work.

Powell's comments, in an interview Wednesday with FCW, are the latest indication that the program and other efforts to provide computers and Internet access to poor and underserved areas may face a significant shift in the Bush administration.

Bush's first legislative proposal, summarized in a blueprint called "No Child Left Behind," calls for allocating E-Rate program money through a funding formula instead of the current application process. Schools can currently apply online at www.sl.universalservice.org or through the mail.

E-Rate was created as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It provides discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on Internet access and infrastructure via a $2.25 billion fund provided by the telecommunications industry through taxes on individual telephone bills. An independent nonprofit corporation established by the FCC administers the money.

Earlier this month, Powell suggested that government may not be responsible for closing the digital divide — the term widely use to describe the gap between those who can afford technology and Internet access and those who cannot.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Bush administration wants to cut government programs that provide computers and Internet access to underserved areas and may suggest cutting the Technology Opportunities Program at the Commerce Department by about 65 percent — to $15 million from the current $42.5 million. Bush's first budget is expected to be sent to Congress in April.

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