Schools depending on the FCC’s E-Rate program to update their internet infrastructures are about to get a little more help: the Federal Communications Commission just gave the program an additional $1.5 billion in funding. The decision was hotly contested, with Republican commissioners arguing the cost was simply too high, but the decision eventually split down party lines, passing with a 3/2 Democrat majority.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday adopted a broad expansion and overhaul of its program to bring high-speed Internet into schools and libraries, a move that will also add to the fees tacked on to the phone bills of Americans each month. The E-Rate program, part of the Universal Service Fund, will grow by $1.5 billion, to a spending cap of $3.9 billion, the first change in the base spending cap since it was set in 1997. F.C.C. officials said consumers would pay less than $2 a year in additional fees per phone line, or less than $6 extra per household, on average; the average household now pays about $36 a year for multiple phone lines. The amount an individual household pays can vary widely, with fees assessed on both home and mobile service. Businesses pay into the program as well. The approval came in a 3-2 vote split on political party lines and drew fiery dissents from the two Republican commissioners.