IT Infrastructure

Trump Appoints E-Rate Critic to Lead the FCC

By Benjamin Herold & Sean Cavanagh — February 08, 2017 3 min read

President Donald Trump has appointed Ajit Pai, a determined critic of recent decisions to overhaul the E-rate program and protect “net neutrality,” to chair the Federal Communications Commission, an agency that wields sweeping powers over the telecommunications sector.

Pai, a Republican, has been a commissioner on the FCC since being appointed by then-President Barack Obama in 2012. He will replace Tom Wheeler, a Democrat who shepherded broad changes touching schools and libraries nationwide. His appointment does not require Senate approval and will signal a return to a Republican majority for the commission.

“I look forward to working with the new administration, my colleagues at the commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans,” Pai said in a short statement issued following Trump’s decision.

In recent years, the FCC has taken dramatic—and according to many school officials, overdue—steps to financially support the E-rate program, which subsidizes telecommunications services for public schools and libraries. The commission in late 2014 voted to increase the program’s annual spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion, as well as to approve a host of regulatory changes aimed at prioritizing broadband and Wi-Fi, phasing out federal support for older technologies, and providing more options to rural schools.

Pai, in remarks made during a December 2014 FCC vote to expand and attempt to modernize the Erate, said he backed the program’s mission. But he cast the changes approved by the FCC majority as financially irresponsible and doing too little to help many of the nation’s communities—particularly in rural areas.

The FCC’s action, Pai argued, was a missed opportunity to specifically channel money to rural schools and libraries and would allow large and urban districts to soak up too much of the E-rate’s new funding. The commission also was failing to eliminate subsidies to E-rate applicants that encourage wasteful spending, overlooking policies that favor wealthy applicants, doing little to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the projects the program supports, Pai said at the time.

Big Changes Ahead?

Urged on by a mammoth surge of public interest, the Wheeler-led FCC in 2015 also approved steps to preserve net neutrality, a term used to describe the idea of a free and open internet in which web traffic is delivered under equal conditions, regardless of the source of the content.

Without net neutrality, consumer advocates fear that telecommunications companies would allow content providers to “throttle up” services, essentially creating a fast lane for wealthy buyers, while relegating others with less means to a slow lane.

Some school officials feared the online academic materials they rely on would get bottlenecked.

Pai was one of two Republicans on the five-member commission to vote against changes to the E-rate in December 2014. He argued that the commission had done too little to check waste and fraud in the program.

As speculation that Pai might get Trump’s nod as FCC chairman increased, some ed-tech supporters have questioned whether he might seek to scale back the E-rate’s recent spending increases. Others believe the program’s recent successes, as well as active bipartisan support at the state level, make any dramatic changes unlikely.

It appears almost certain, however, that big changes are coming on net neutrality. Pai was an ardent opponent of the FCC’s recent rulings on the issue, describing them as government intrusion into the market, stifling for business, and bad for consumers.

His ascension to the helm of the FCC drew alarmed reactions from backers of net neutrality, such as Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron, whose organization strongly supported the FCC’s decision.

“Millions of Americans from across the political spectrum have looked to the FCC to protect their rights to connect and communicate and cheered decisions like the historic net-neutrality ruling,” Aaron said, “and Pai threatens to undo all of that important work.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as ‘Net Neutrality’ Critic Tapped to Lead FCC

Events

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.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

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

IT Infrastructure School District Data Systems Are Messed Up. A New Coalition Wants to Help
Organizations representing states and school districts have teamed up with ISTE to help make data systems more user-friendly and secure.
3 min read
Conceptual collage of arrows, icon figures, and locks
Sean Gladwell/Moment/Getty
IT Infrastructure More Families Have Internet Access. So Why Hasn't the Digital Divide Begun to Close?
A new study says low-income families’ access to the internet has soared in the past six years. But there are other barriers to connectivity.
3 min read
Glowing neon Loading icon isolated on brick wall background. Progress bar icon.
Mingirov/iStock/Getty Images Plus
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.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Whitepaper
2021 Best Practices Guide: Education Broadband
In this guide, we provide actionable steps, timelines, and tips to help you launch and sustain a successful student WiFi program.
Content provided by Kajeet
IT Infrastructure Remote and Hybrid Learning Are Declining. But the 'Homework Gap' Will Still Be a Problem
Schools are returning to in-person instruction, but students' connections to the internet at home remain spotty.
2 min read
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an advance placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School, displays a wifi hot spot that are being handed out to students in Dallas on April 9, 2020. Dallas I.S.D. is handing out the devices along with wifi hotspots to students in need so that they can connect online for their continued education amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an Advanced Placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School in Dallas, displays one of the Wi-Fi hotspots that were given to district students during the pandemic.
Tony Gutierrez/AP