Jones calls on FCC-controlled program to stop withholding $32.4 million for Alabama Schools Internet
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Doug Jones yesterday sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Ajit Pai addressing why the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) has failed to fund $32 million for internet services through the E-Rate program, requested by the State of Alabama. The Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Program, or E-Rate program, provides discounts to assist eligible schools and libraries to obtain affordable internet access and telecommunications services.
“Broadband is as much of a necessity in a classroom as notebooks and pencils. By failing to deliver universal internet, we fail to provide our children with the skills they need to compete for jobs in the 21st century economy,” said Senator Jones. “Simply put, these unexplained delays are inexcusable and they hurt the 1,376 school and library sites and 692,515 students who benefit from E-rate funding and services in Alabama.”
E-Rate is one of many programs managed by USAC, an independent not-for-profit designated by the FCC. Funding for USAC comes from the Universal Service Fund, which was created in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act expanded the traditional goal of universal service to include increased access to both telecommunications and advanced services – such as high-speed Internet – for all consumers at just, reasonable and affordable rates. The FCC established four programs within the Universal Service Fund to implement universal service. The four programs are:
The state of Alabama has requested funds for FY 2016-18 totaling $32,404,608. Of that funding request, $6,705,647 million has been approved by the USAC. The remaining $25,698,961 is pending approval. The USAC has held payments for fifteen months, no new funding commitments have been issued, and the USAC has failed to provide an explanation for withholding E-Rate payments to Alabama.
Below is the complete text of the letter:
The Honorable Ajit Pai
Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Pai:
It has come to my attention that the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), an organization under your management, has withheld $32.4 million in E-rate discount funding from the State of Alabama.
As you know, the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Program, or E-Rate program, plays a critical role in providing Alabama schools and libraries with affordable high-speed internet access.
According to information I have received, the State of Alabama has not been paid $6,705,647 that was approved in FY 2016. Further, the State of Alabama has submitted additional requests for FY 2016-2018 totaling $25,698,961. It is my understanding that all of these applications are still pending with no indication whether they will be granted or not.
You have noted that, “Internet access in public schools has almost tripled since E-Rate’s creation, and speeds have grown alongside availability.” This is welcome news because, in today’s economy, internet access is no longer just a luxury. Broadband is as much of a necessity in a classroom as notebooks and pencils. By failing to deliver universal internet, we fail to provide our children with the skills they need to compete for jobs in the 21st century economy.
Simply put, these unexplained delays are inexcusable and they hurt the 1,376 school and library sites and 692,515 students who benefit from E-rate funding and services in Alabama.
I have seen that you have advocated changing the E-Rate program to make it “student-centered.” I certainly agree with you and believe that a great first step would be to keep your promise to provide the funding that is owed to Alabama and approve the pending applications.
I ask that you provide me with an update on the status of the State of Alabama’s approved funding for FY 2016 and of the pending applications for requests for FY 2016-2018 at the earliest opportunity.