Education Week - February 15, 2017 - 9
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > Tracking news and ideas in educational technology
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retraction decisions and an agreement that the FCC will not order
the removal of any other documents
from the public record."
The report was released Jan. 18,
just two days before former FCC
Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat
who oversaw major changes to the
E-rate program during his tenure,
It was retracted Feb. 3, less than
two weeks after President Donald
Trump appointed Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner who voted
against the Wheeler-led E-rate reforms in 2014, as chairman.
The order officially came from the
acting chiefs of the commission's
Wireline Competition and Wireless
Telecommunications bureaus, as well
as the FCC's managing director.
A commission spokesman said the
report "does not reflect the official
views of the agency." A copy remains
available on its website.
Evidence of Success
Titled "E-Rate Modernization:
Progress and the Road Ahead," the
document describes the impact of
the FCC's 2014 effort to overhaul
the E-rate program, which helps
subsidize the cost of telecommunications services for public schools and
libraries. In addition to raising the
program's annual spending cap from
$2.4 billion to $3.9 billion, Wheeler
and the commission's Democratic
majority approved regulations prioritizing broadband and Wi-Fi, increasing competition in the school
broadband market, and making a
wide range of data related to the
program publicly available.
Among the report's findings: Between 2013 and 2016, the percentage of school districts meeting minimum federal connectivity targets
rose from 30 percent to 77 percent.
During the same span, the cost
schools paid for bandwidth fell from
$22 to $7 per megabit per second.
The E-rate program is funded via
fees on consumers' phone bills. The
report also notes that total payments
made under the program in each of
the last two years have fallen well
short of its annual spending cap.
The FCC spokesman did not dispute the report's findings, saying its
publication "failed to follow proper
procedures, and therefore, we can't
comment one way or the other on
whether the findings and conclusions are accurate."
The findings echo those of nonprofit broadband-advocacy group
released its own analysis of E-rate
application data last month.
Evan Marwell, the group's CEO,
said he was "perplexed" as to why
the FCC would withdraw a report
showing the "tremendous success"
of its own program. "I'd think this
report is exactly the kind of accountability Chairman Pai would like to
see," Marwell said.
After word of the retraction order
became public, Florida Sen. Bill
Nelson, the ranking member of the
Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation, sent a sharply
worded rebuke to the FCC's new
The E-rate is "without question
the single most important educational technology program in the
country," Nelson's letter says. "Our
nation's students, teachers, and
librarians-and this senator-
New FCC Chairman
Alarms E-Rate Fans
Then-FCC Chairman Thomas
Wheeler, left, speaks last spring
while commissioner Ajit Pai, now
head of the FCC, looks on during
a Senate committee hearing.
will hold you accountable for any
changes that roll back this highly
successful and cherished program
that has helped bring internet
connectivity and broadband to
schools and libraries throughout
A New Vision
Pai has long supported the E-rate
and believes it is a "program worth
fighting for," according to the FCC
In voting against E-rate modernization in 2014, however, Pai cast
the changes to the program as financially irresponsible. He argued that
Wheeler and his supporters were
dismissive of the program's impact on
consumers and had not done enough
to check waste, fraud, and abuse.
FCC Alters 'Lifeline' Broadband Effort
By Sarah Schwartz
& Benjamin Herold
Following a policy reversal by the
Federal Communications Commission, nine companies will no longer
be able to participate in the federal
Lifeline program, which offers subsidized broadband internet to lowincome Americans.
The move was engineered by new
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican originally appointed by former
President Barack Obama in 2012 and
tapped to head the commission by
President Donald Trump this month.
In one of the commission's first
moves under Pai, its Wireline Competition Bureau announced that it
would reconsider the companies' eligibility as approved broadband providers for the Lifeline program. The
order limits the companies' ability
to provide subsidized broadband access for families, including students,
who rely on home internet access to
complete homework assignments.
Hundreds of other companies remain eligible providers.
"There is a serious question as to
whether the FCC has the legal authority to designate Lifeline providers
or whether such designations must
be made by state governments, as
has long been the norm," Pai writes
in a blog post defending the order.
"Putting the designations on hold
gives the FCC the chance to make
sure the process is legally defensible
and to avoid potentially stranding
customers if the courts ultimately
deem the process unlawful."
Lifeline provides a $9.25 monthly
credit to qualifying low-income households that subscribers can apply toward communications services. The
program, which was launched in
1985, historically covered only phone
service. Last year, however, former
Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat,
led a successful push to expand the
Lifeline program to also cover standalone broadband service.
Pai, a commissioner at the time,
voted against the changes. When he
became chairman, he moved to start
unwinding it. In a statement, Pai said
the commission's earlier approval of
the nine broadband providers were
the result of "midnight regulations."
The FCC was able to reverse those
regulations because of a rule that allows the commission to reverse any
order within 30 days of its issuance.
At the time of the new order,
just one of the companies was al-
Pai has outlined his own plans to
improve broadband access for rural
schools and communities. As chairman, Pai also began last week unwinding recent changes to another
FCC universal-service program
known as the Lifeline.
It's common for a federal agency
to switch policy directions after a
change in leadership, especially following a presidential election, said
Douglas A. Levin, a consultant with
EdTech Strategies and a former
head of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
But even during a switch in administration, rescinding a public
report is an unusual decision that
"looks awful," Levin said. "To expunge the record is clearly a political move. It's particularly curious
because Pai himself seems to value
data in decisionmaking."
The move could signal a coming
effort to reduce overall FCC spending on universal-service programs,
It also lends credence to the grow-
ready providing broadband service.
Households receiving subsidized
broadband from that company, Boomerang, have the option to transfer
their service credit to another Lifeline provider, the FCC said.
The decision puts the nine companies' applications on hold, according to Pai's blog post. The chairman
hopes the commission will consider
additional financial safeguards in the
Among the firms affected is
McLean, Va.-based Kajeet. As part
of an initiative dubbed "Education
Lifeline," the company sought to provide targeted broadband services to
qualifying households with K-12 students. Through the program, Kajeet
would have provided students with
a mobile hotspot with 4G LTE connectivity, filtered for educational use.
Kajeet CEO and co-founder Daniel Neal said he remains hopeful
that the FCC will eventually approve the company as a designated
Lifeline broadband provider.
ing fear that the Trump administration is engaged in a pattern of undermining access to information and
the credibility of scientific evidence,
said Alexander Howard, the deputy
director of the Sunlight Foundation,
a nonprofit that advocates open data
and government transparency.
Howard cited the administration's
questioning of widely accepted unemployment figures from the Bureau
of Labor Statistics and the removal
of thousands of documents detailing
animal-welfare abuses from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture website as
similarly troubling examples.
The FCC's decision to rescind its
E-rate report and walk away from
its findings is more reason for concern, he said.
"If there's a body of scientific evidence collected by an agency about
how to accomplish its mission, that's
something we should want to be preserved in the public record," Howard
said."The basic issue we are starting
to run into is whether science itself is
hold gives the FCC
the chance to make
sure the process
is legally defensible."
EDUCATION WEEK | February 15, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 9