The Federal Communications Commission has approved a major spending increase that'll allow for more than a billion dollars in additional funds to be used toward bringing high-speed internet connections and Wi-Fi to schools and libraries across the US. The spending comes as part of the commission's E-rate program, which was overhauled earlier this year to begin focusing its support on modern technologies, like gigabit internet, while withdrawing support for older technologies, like phone service. In following up that overhaul yesterday, the commission approved what it's calling the program's first funding "reset" since it was started in 1997, bringing its spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. The measure was first introduced last month.
The public has to pay for the new funds
The amount of funding that will actually be disbursed depends on the demand from schools and libraries, and the commission is trying to make it somewhat easier for those funds to be requested. The fund doesn't cover the entire expense of buying and installing new equipment, however it will provide more money to schools and libraries that are located in rural areas or areas with more poverty. The commission notes that the funding will likely ramp up toward the spending cap, suggesting it may not be met immediately.
The E-rate program is funded by a small tax called the Universal Service Fund that's added onto everyone's phone bill, so this adjusted spending cap will mean higher fees. Those fees shouldn't be substantial, however. Even if the $3.9 billion cap is hit, the commission says that people will only be paying around 16 cents more per phone line per month, totaling $1.90 more for a single line each year. Republicans on the commission voted against the plan, denouncing it as a wasteful tax increase.
"I am aghast at the hostility that is expressed to giving students the tools they need to get a 21st century education," commission chairman Tom Wheeler says, according to The New York Times. In a statement, the commission says that it believes the small tax increase is far outweighed by the benefits the program can bring to education.