WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 - At Tuesday's oversight hearing of the Federal Communications Commission, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., on Tuesday put the focus on the portion of the Universal Service Fund designed to provide connectivity to schools and libraries, as well as on the public safety network described as FirstNet. The Senate and the agency, he said, “need to think big about the future of eRate.”
Touting the success of the eRate in connecting the vast majority of classes to the internet, Rockefeller said it was necessary to continue to ensure that every child has access to the internet – and just how vital the internet is to current education system.
“More than 92 percent of classrooms have Internet access,” he said. “But, as impressive and important as this statistic is, basic internet connectivity is not sufficient to meet our 21st Century educational needs. Digital information and technology will continue to play an increasing role in education, so we need to think about how we are going to meet the broadband infrastructure needs of our schools and libraries.
Additionally, Rockefeller highlighted the importance of FirstNet, the “nationwide interoperable public safety network that our first responders are owed,” In a like fashion, he said that the internet is vital to fulfilling the needs of students around the country. “If every coffee shop in America can offer wireless connectivity, than by-golly every school should as well,” he said.
Put in place by the efforts of Rockefeller and others under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the eRate pays for much of the costs of schools across the country to connect to broadband services.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell agreed with Rockefeller that the eRate needed to be updated to fit current needs of schools and libraries around the country. However, McDowell cautioned that while the eRate is important, “we must address contribution reform first.” This contribution reform would address how the revenue is raised for the universal service fund.
The hearing also briefly touched on violence in the media, although little substantive discussion actually took place.