Ed-Tech Policy

House Hearing Focuses on Problems in E-Rate Program

By Andrew Trotter — June 23, 2004 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After seven years of operation and more than $8 billion in spending for telecommunications equipment and services for schools, the federal E-rate program appears to be at the starting gate of a congressional reform effort.

That conclusion arose last week from the long-awaited first hearing on the subject by a House investigatory panel.

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee spent a full day June 17 discussing a growing list of “waste, fraud, and abuse concerns” in the E-rate program.

Front and center in the discussion was an E-rate-financed project in Puerto Rico to connect 1,500 schools to the Internet. The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., said the project there became a “quagmire.”

After the program in the island commonwealth spent $100 million in federal money in 2001, only nine of 1,500 schools had received the promised Internet services, several witnesses at the hearing said.

What’s more, video recorded by congressional investigators, who traveled to Puerto Rico in February, shows piles of telecommunications and computer equipment sitting idle in warehouses. The school-owned equipment included 73,000 computer network cards that originally cost $300 each.

At the hearing, Rep. Greenwood called the E-rate program “overly complex and poorly managed,” and said there “appears to be no oversight in a program where rigorous oversight should be paramount.”

He suggested that some companies that provide telecommunications services through the E-rate program may urge beneficiaries to request technology that vastly exceeds their needs and even their capacity to make use of it. The companies, he said, may co-opt school or government officials into supporting wasteful projects.

“The incentive [of the contractors] is to overcapitalize on the system, to build in a way which suits the interests of the contractor, not necessarily the ratepayer,” Mr. Greenwood said.

The “education rate” program, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is financed through a surcharge on telephone bills. Individual schools or school districts pay a share of the costs, as low as 10 percent for those serving low-income populations, for the telecommunications equipment and services the program provides.

Government and education officials from Puerto Rico, testifying at the hearing, said the problems there were caused by vendors—some acting illegally—as well as the commonwealth’s previous administration, which held office in 2001. Two vendors testified that the government should share the blame.

Mr. Greenwood, who presided over the daylong hearing, noted that in Puerto Rico, the anticipated delay to resolve the past funding issues threatens to jeopardize previously funded E-rate work.

Oversight Problems

Members of the House also questioned witnesses, including officials of the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the program, and the Universal Services Administrative Co., or USAC, which runs it, about their capacity to keep E-rate waste and fraud at bay. The program serves some 30,000 schools, districts, and state education departments, and other education agencies.

One witness, H. Walker Feaster III, the inspector general of the FCC, said regulators are hampered by a lack of resources. Only three FCC investigators are assigned to oversee the E-rate program, and Congress has not approved requests to increase funding for oversight, Mr. Feaster said.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Combatting Teacher Shortages: Strategies for Classroom Balance and Learning Success
Learn from leaders in education as they share insights and strategies to support teachers and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Reading Instruction and AI: New Strategies for the Big Education Challenges of Our Time
Join the conversation as experts in the field explore these instructional pain points and offer game-changing guidance for K-12 leaders and educators.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy What the Head of ChatGPT Told Congress About AI's Potential
Sam Altman, the CEO of the company that created ChatGPT, thinks that AI-generated content needs to be labeled as such.
3 min read
Artificial intelligence and schoolwork image with hand holding pencil with digital AI collage overtop
Ed-Tech Policy Schools Are Major Targets of Cyberattacks. A Bipartisan Effort in Congress Aims to Help
There have been 1,619 publicly disclosed K-12 cyberattacks between 2016 and 2022.
3 min read
Silhouette of a hacker in a hoodie using laptop with binary code overlay.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Ed-Tech Policy We Asked ChatGPT: Should Schools Ban You?
The debate about the benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and more specifically ChatGPT, is heating up.
1 min read
Vector illustration of the letters AI partially breaking through the red circle and slash symbol representing it being banned
Tech luminaries and prominent AI researchers signed an open letter calling for temporarily putting the brakes on development of AI technologies.
Ed-Tech Policy Congress Tells TikTok CEO: The App Is Bad for Students and Privacy
TikTok spreads misinformation, endangers children’s mental health, and jeopardizes their privacy, lawmakers said.
3 min read
Supporters of TikTok hold signs during a rally to defend the app at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 22, 2023. The House holds a hearing Thursday, with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on kids.
Supporters of TikTok hold signs during a rally to defend the app at the Capitol in Washington on March 22, 2023. The House held a hearing the next day with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and its impact on kids.
Jose Luis Magana/AP