June 18, 2019(2)

(E-RATE, ED FUNDING) Permanent link   All Posts

Of E-Rate and Approps: An Advocacy Update

E-Rate Update: A recent proposal from the Federal Communications--under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai (Republican)--would place limits on the amount of money the e-Rate program could make available to support school and library efforts to improve internet access. Unlike previous proposals we have responded to at the FCC, which have been narrow in scope and focused on E-Rate--this latest proposal targets the broader umbrella program--the Universal Service Fund (USF)--that includes three other sister programs (Rural health care, the Connect America Fund and Lifeline). Currently each of the four USF programs operate under their own cap you'll recall that the E-Rate cap currently sits at just over $4 billion, a cap established in the 2014 E-Rate modernization. The FCC's proposal would set a cap for the overall USF. THe proposed cap is nearly $2 billion above current levels. Specific to E-Rate, the proposal would pair E-Rate with Rural Healthcare under a single cap. This is of particular concern to us because while E-Rate is currently undersubscribed, school and library demand will only continue to grow, and even if these connectivity prices continue to fall, the reality of increasing demand and skyrocketing costs with rural health care create a scenario where one USF program is pitted against another, with rural schools competing with rural health care for connectivity needs. This should not be an 'either, or' funding approach; the USF program was designed to address four distinct connectivity needs, a core tenet this proposal blatantly disregards. The proposal will follow the normal comment period. As an initial reply, AASA partnered with our EdLiNC coalition to request an extension on the filing deadline. You can read that letter here

Big take aways? Moving forward, know that this is the top advocacy priority for the summer. We will be utilizing a full member press to ensure the FCC hears loud and clear about the importance of the E-Rate program, how the proposed partner cap creates an arbitrary competition between complementary programs, and threatens to undermine the viability of the overarching program. Our efforts will focus on the FCC, as this is where the proposal originated and where the decision will be made, but we will also exert messaging effort on Capitol Hill, as Congress oversees the FCC and the Telecommunications Act, the authorizing statute under the overall USF program. 

Appropriations Update: House Democrats plan to pass a nearly $1 trillion spending package this week, a move that would tie up loose ends from the intra-party fight in April over the fiscal direction of the country. Passing H.R. 2740 would require solid support throughout the House Democratic caucus, because Republicans have said they won’t back the measure, which includes Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, State and Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water appropriations. To reach the 217 votes currently necessary for a majority, Democrats can lose support from no more than 17 of their 235 members. AASA sent a letter of support for the bill, with the Committee for Education. Later in the week, the House will begin consideration of its second appropriations package (H.R. 3055) that includes Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD funds. Agencies and programs covered by those five appropriations bills would receive about $320 billion in fiscal 2020 discretionary funding under the measure. Over on the Senate side, negotiations on a possible deal to raise the discretionary caps on defense and non-defense spending have not yet been fruitful, and have led to contemplating looking for a deal to raise just the FY 2020 caps, meaning that Congress would have to face a huge spending cut down to the sequester-level caps for FY 2021 in an election year.  That is not an outcome that congressional leadership want.

Big take aways? We are not in the clear when it comes to avoiding a shutdown, nor is there a clear path forward on raising the caps. That said, the question is not so much 'Will Congress raise the caps?' as much as 'How much will Congress raise the caps, and will they address FY20 and FY21 in one package, or will they have to renegotiate in an election year?". 


Leave a comment
Name *
Email *
Homepage
Comment