Ayotte, Pai: E-Rate falling short for rural students

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Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ajit Pai, commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, said a federal program aimed at connecting schools to the Internet is falling short for students in rural areas.

In an op-ed for the New Hampshire Union Leader, the two Republicans criticized the federal E-Rate program for disproportionately doling out funding to connect schools.

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“The reality is that E-Rate is leaving students in rural America behind,” the pair wrote. “The way funding is currently distributed, states like New Hampshire, Vermont, Montana and South Dakota get the least E-Rate funding per student.”

The E-Rate program is a part of the FCC's Universal Service Fund, which is funded through fees on telephone services.

According to the op-ed, New Hampshire receives "25 cents back for every dollar they pay into the program," while states like New Jersey receive more funding per student.

"That's not fair: New Jersey is more urban and has a higher median income than New Hampshire, and broadband is more expensive in rural areas," Ayotte and Pai wrote.

The op-ed calls for an end to these "subsidies" and "a student-centered E-Rate program," with fewer administrative obstacles for schools to receive funding.

Schools face "hours of paperwork, months of waiting, and an understanding of E-Rate's convoluted and antiquated rules to even have a chance of obtaining funding," Ayotte and Pai said.

"The most successful schools tend to hire outside consultants to navigate the process for them — an option that many schools, especially small and rural ones, can't afford."

Additionally, schools should have "the flexibility to spend E-Rate funds on technologies that directly benefit students," they wrote.

"E-Rate must reflect the needs of today's students, regardless of which school they attend."