CEOs Urge Federal Officials to Overhaul E-Rate

Managing Editor

Industries from across the United States are taking a stronger interest in improving schools’ Web connectivity, as evidenced by a new open letter released Thursday from about 50 CEOs that urges federal officials to bring signficant changes to the E-rate program.

The letter is directed to Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that oversees the E-rate and has released a tentative blueprint for renovating the program. FCC officials have said the program, established in 1996, needs to be modernized to support up-to-date technologies and to operate more efficiently with less bureaucracy.

Those goals are shared by President Obama, who last year publicly called for significant changes to the program and put forward ideas that in some ways mirrored those under discussion at the FCC.

The CEOs signing the letter come from a diverse assortment of industries. They include Michael Dell, of Dell Inc.; Craig Kallman, of Atlantic Records; John Donahoe, of eBay; Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook; Vinod Khosla, of Khosla Ventures; Reed Hastings of Netflix; and filmmaker George Lucas, of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

 “The FCC must act boldly to modernize the E-rate program to provide the capital needed to upgrade our K-12 broadband connectivity and Wi-Fi infrastructure within the next five years,” the letter states. “The FCC must also ensure that E-rate funding is spent effectively. In this era of scarce resources the FCC should focus E-rate spending on upgrading America’s K-12 Internet infrastructure and help schools dramatically lower the cost of bandwidth.”

E-rate funding can be used to “provide the capital investment to connect our school districts to high-speed fiber networks. This is a financially sound investment that will lower bandwidth costs, enable investments in Wi-Fi upgrades, and generate tremendous returns for both our students and the American taxpayer.”

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