Chair Rodgers and Senator Cruz Urge FCC Commissioner to Reject Rosenworcel Plan to Subsidize TikTok on School Buses
WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) sent a letter to the newly sworn-in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Anna Gomez urging her to oppose FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel's plan to expand the E-rate program beyond school classrooms and libraries. The proposed expansion of funding, including to fund Wi-Fi hotspots on school buses, is not only unlawful (the statute only allows for connectivity spending for classrooms and libraries) but raises concerns about subsidizing children’s unsupervised internet access to social media sites, like TikTok and Instagram, on their bus rides to and from school. The letter, emphasizing multiple concerns, argues that the E-rate expansion could potentially lead to duplicative federal government programs and wasteful subsidized overbuilding in communities.
In the letter, E&C Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senate Commerce Ranking Member Ted Cruz and wrote:
“We write to express our strong opposition to a plan circulated by Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to expand the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC or the Commission) E-Rate program. This plan would not only violate federal law but also duplicate programs across the federal government, directly contradicting FCC commissioners’ repeated commitments to streamlining federal broadband funding. Indeed, Commissioner Nathan Simington says this plan ‘would eviscerate Congress’ restrictions on E-Rate and make a mockery of the law.’ Instead of expanding the FCC’s authority beyond current statutory and budgetary constraints, the FCC should address the E-Rate program’s existing problems and follow the law as written.
“Expanding E-Rate to fund equipment like Wi-Fi hotspots would break with the statute and longstanding precedent that Universal Service Fund (USF) dollars, which fund the E-Rate program, may only be used to fund services and not consumer devices.
“Perhaps even more concerning, expanding E-Rate spending beyond school classrooms and libraries into the broader community creates new potential for wasteful, subsidized overbuilding. The E-Rate program already subsidizes broadband deployment to schools and libraries, which has resulted in multiple examples of subsidized overbuilding. By expanding E-Rate support to off-campus connectivity, the plan appears to open the door to funding broadband buildout to homes, even in cases where the community is already served by an existing broadband provider. This use of taxpayer dollars to compete with private businesses is inappropriate and inefficient, and could duplicate existing federal programs, such as the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program (BEAD).
“Worse, this expansion neglects E-Rate’s deep-seated problems. There is little evidence the program has helped improve learning outcomes or that schools would not be connected without the subsidy. E-Rate primarily benefits large, wealthy school districts, rather than poor rural schools. It is full of waste, fraud, and abuse. It is notorious for overbuilding existing networks. According to the former FCC Inspector General, there is a cottage industry of ‘consultants who extract a significant amount of money from applicants’ by taking advantage of the program’s complexity. Additionally, the FCC has an extensive backlog of E-Rate applications and appeals, including some pending cases from two decades ago. The FCC should get E-Rate’s house in order before seeking new ways to spend consumers’ hard-earned money.”
The letter concludes, “Chairwoman Rosenworcel calls her plan 'Learn without Limits,' but it really should be called 'Spend without Limits.' We ask that you reject this unlawful plan to vastly expand the E-Rate program. Instead, the FCC should work with Congress, not ignore the text of section 254, to advance its policy goals.”
CLICK HERE to read the full letter.
On July 31, 2023, Chair Rodgers and Senator Cruz sent a letter to Chairwoman Rosenworcel expressing their opposition to her proposal to vastly expand the E-Rate program. Read the full letter HERE.