FCC Chairman Wants To Hike Monthly Fee In Phone Bills To Fund Faster Internet In Schools

If Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gets his way, phone bills will go up by 16 cents a month, or $2 per year, as part of a plan to fund faster Internet access in schools. This would apply to the E-Rate fee that appears on phone bills, which is a program to fund Internet access to schools and libraries.

Wheeler and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) fielded a conference call to introduce the proposal. Both are in agreement that the current program needs rebooted, stressing that there's a growing divide between schools in well-to-do neighborhoods and those in lower-income, rural areas over Internet access.

School Computers
Image Source: Flickr (Michael Surran)

"The failure to do so will mean children in some communities will continue to be bypassed by opportunities in the 21st century," Wheeler said. "We can do better than that for our children."

One of the FCC's goals is to bring Internet speeds of 100Mbps to schools with 1,000 students, and longer-term, bumping up that speed to 1Gbps. However, the fiber-optic lines needed for such speeds are expensive and not everyone is in agreement with how to fund them.

"Last July, the Commission had the opportunity to enact bipartisan, student -centered E- Rate reforms. Instead, it adopted a plan with numbers that didn’t come close to adding up and promised outside groups a massive post-election tax increase. Now, less than two weeks after the election, those chickens are coming home to roost. I strongly oppose this 17.2 percent tax increase," Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement. "Instead of imposing a greater burden on families struggling to make ends meet in this lackluster economy, the Commission should pursue fiscally responsible reforms. These reforms would cut the bureaucratic red tape and focus resources on the children and library patrons of poor and rural America, where the need is greatest."

Wheeler points out that the E-rate fee hasn't been adjusted for inflation for 13 years. It currently sits at 99 cents.