FCC to tackle E-Rate, utility poles, competition at May meeting

Proposals to expand schools' Internet access and increase broadband competition are scheduled for discussion at the FCC's next open meeting on Thursday, May 20.

Both items are part of the commission's National Broadband Plan, and both involve issues the FCC said earlier this month are unaffected by a federal court decision that essentially stripped the commission of its power to regulate broadband providers. The agency's action at the end May will ultimately initiate the public comment and rule-making process for both new proposals.

The FCC first hopes to upgrade E-Rate, commissioned in 1996 to expand classroom Internet use nationwide. While lawmakers ponder possible funding increases to that program, which was designed to address the digital divide, the FCC hopes to raise E-Rate's funding cap and streamline its application process using its own rule-making powers.

The commission also plans to issue notice on possible changes to "pole attachments" -- essentially, rules that the FCC believes will ensure "nondiscriminatory, just and reasonable access" to utility poles. The commission believes its efforts will trigger more competition in the broadband industry.

Also on the FCC's May agenda: discussion of a new report on mobile wireless competition, a report and order to allow mobile providers to use a new range of spectrum and a second report on transferring local telephone numbers.