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New government plan for school WiFi leaves everyone unhappy

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The FCC is ready to start doling out up to $2 billion dollars in grants to American schools to pay for WiFi networks, but it doesn't seem that anyone -- especially the schools -- are happy about it. The new rules under the aging E-Rate program, which is part of the Universal Service Fund, would set aside $1 billion dollars this year and another billion next year to set up WiFi networks in schools and public libraries. Chairman Tom Wheeler says the agency should be proud because "10 million kids will be connected next year who otherwise wouldn't." But Republicans are concerned the program will favor urban areas, while failing to deliver much needed connectivity to rural schools. Of course, GOP lawmakers also steadfastly opposed increasing funding to the E-Rate, which had its budget capped at $2.25 billion 16 years ago and hasn't been adjusted since.

The failure to increase funding to the program certainly rubbed Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel the wrong way, who said, "I hope that going forward we will have the courage to fix this ... It's a matter of our global competitiveness." Schools and teachers unions are equally concerned that the new program doesn't go quite far enough to deliver connectivity and want to see the E-Rate budget increased. Both Republican lawmakers and schools are also concerned that cash strapped institutions won't be able to afford to hire consultants who can help navigate the labyrinth of paperwork.

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