Funding of E-Rate Program

Categories: Advocacy Letter

Recipient: FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell

The Honorable Michael K. Powell
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Powell:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition with more than 180 national organizations, we urge your support of proposals that would lift the funding freeze which the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) imposed on the E-Rate program. The delay in distributing previously committed funds is causing significant hardship for school districts across the country.

As you know, there continue to be significant gaps regarding access to and utilization of technology, referred to by many as the “digital divide.” The E-Rate program, which has committed more than $10 billion to connect to the Internet schools and libraries nationwide, has played and continues to play a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide. Indeed, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that classroom Internet connectivity rates have grown from 14 percent in 1996, when the E-Rate program became law, to 92 percent in 2002. The E-Rate program has helped close the Internet access gap for low-income and minority students by wiring the most economically disadvantaged schools first. The result of this critical prioritization of funding is that Internet access rates for high minority enrollment and highly impoverished schools are now comparable to those enjoyed by all public schools.

In August, USAC halted funding of nearly $1.4 billion in Program Year 2004 requests for the E-Rate discounts, as it determined how to implement new accounting standards for federal agencies and whether the provisions of the Anti-Deficiency Act apply to the E-Rate. This moratorium has left hundreds of underserved communities scrambling to pay for their technology needs. Moreover, it is making it impossible for many applicants to apply for Program Year 2005 funding when the application window opens in the next few weeks because they will not know if or when they will receive Program Year 2004 commitments. Any further funding delay could seriously imperil this important program and the work that it is doing to ensure that low income students and library patrons are able to make use of the wealth of educational and employment resources available online.

While distressed at the current state of affairs, we are heartened that proposals are circulating that would exempt not just E-Rate but all of universal service from the Anti-Deficiency Act. This proposal would protect the E-Rate as well as two other critical components of universal service – LifeLine and Link-Up – which ensure affordable telephone service for low-income telephone users. Finally, let us be clear that LCCR does not condone waste, fraud, or misuse of any funds of any kind and fully support your efforts to uncover these abuses.

Mr. Chairman, please support all efforts to resume issuing E-Rate funding commitments so that schools and libraries are allowed to continue with their critical efforts. LCCR looks forward to working with you in the future on other priority issues. Please contact Nancy Zirkin at 202/263-2880 if you would like to discuss this or any other issue important to LCCR.

Sincerely,

Wade Henderson
Executive Director

Nancy Zirkin
Deputy Director


Cc:
The Honorable Kathleen Q. Abernathy, FCC Commissioner
The Honorable Jonathan S. Adelstein, FCC Commissioner
The Honorable Michael J. Copps, FCC Commissioner
The Honorable Kevin J. Martin, FCC Commissioner