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Letter to the House on NEA's Opposition to E-Rate Amendments to H.R. 5016

July 15, 2014

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the students they serve, we urge you to vote NO on any amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2015 (H.R. 5016), that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) from continuing its work to modernize the E-rate Program. Votes on amendments to H.R. 5016 are expected this week. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress. 

The NEA, along with the more than a dozen national groups, have spent years working with the Commission to modernize the Program. The NEA has worked tirelessly to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Program and applauds the Commission’s recent passage of the E-rate Modernization Order. As an initial first step in modernizing the E-rate, the Order implements important updates including streamlining the application process, reducing inefficiencies, and embarking on a two-year Wi-Fi test.

However, the greatest challenge facing the Program’s long-term ability to support sufficient high-speed broadband capacity is its inability to keep up with applicant demand. Capped since its inception, having only received inflationary adjustments since 2010, the E-rate Program has not even kept up with inflation.  When one considers developments in technology and increased bandwidth demands over the last fifteen years alone, the level at which the E-Rate is currently funded is quite simply outdated.  Our nation’s schools and libraries are struggling to meet 21st century broadband connectivity needs with 1998 dollars. The NEA firmly believes that E-rate beneficiaries and other interested parties should have the opportunity to continue working with the Commission to determine the most appropriate next steps in modernizing the E-rate.

The NEA firmly believes that the E-rate Program is a program that works. Over the past 18 years, the E-rate has helped connect nearly 100 percent of schools and 95 percent of public libraries to the Internet. The discounts provided to E-rate beneficiaries have helped our nation’s schools and libraries not only establish Internet access, but have also been instrumental in helping sustain that access. Moving forward, the E-rate Program, as the only source of federal funds to support broadband for schools and libraries, is essential to ensuring sufficient high-speed broadband capacity. Any amendment that would prohibit educators from continuing to work with the Commission on modernizing the E-rate would jeopardize our country’s ability to ensure all students have access to a 21st century education and their preparedness to compete in a global economy.

We ask you to vote NO on any amendment to H.R. 5016 that would prohibit the FCC from continuing its E-Rate modernization process, including considering appropriate long-term funding options for the program.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations