The ConnectED scheme: Proposed new $5 per year cellphone tax could be used to bring more U.S. schools online

The ConnectED scheme
Unwilling to ask Congress for extra funds to pay for high-speed Internet connections in schools, President Obama is instead looking to tack yet another charge on cellphones through the Federal Communications Commission.  The new program, called ConnectED, would expand an existing school-wiring effort and cost each cellphone user about $5 a year, said White House officials.
President Obama’s plan to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to 99 percent of America’s school students. The five year scheme was revealed back in June and at the time, there was vague talk about raising taxes on phone bills to help pay for the initiative – except it wasn’t clear whether this was fixed or phones, or when such a tax would be implemented, if at all.
That question has been answered today, and it’s cellphone users who will be paying. White House officials, quoted in the New York Post, say each phone user will end up paying about $5 extra per year on their bill, or around $0.40 each month. It’s unlikely to break the bank, but it’s enough to notice.
The FCC is considering completely reworking the E-Rate. The goal will be to reach President Obama’s goal of providing 100 Mpbs-1 Gbps of bandwidth to schools serving 99 percent of students, and to provide wireless access inside schools. Allocating funding based on enrollment is one proposal, but the FCC is also considering cutting the top discount level, eliminating telephone service from the program, expanding eligibility of fiber leases, etc.
To see a brief list of the changes that the FCC is considering
For those with more time, here is the full Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)
It’s worth reading the comments of Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai at the end of the NPRM, as they lay out very different visions of what the reform should look like. And the FCC really does read the comments. I think comments from school districts are especially powerful. It’s pretty easy to file comments online; here are the FCC’s instructions: FYI, E-Rate comments should be filed in Docket 02-6.
Comments were due September 16, 2013.