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Legislators call for improved school, library Internet

More than two dozen members of Congress have signed a letter calling for upgrades to a federal program that subsidizes Internet access at schools and libraries.

"The program hasn't kept pace with changing technology," Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said in a statement.

Most schools currently have Internet access but their connections are too slow to accommodate the latest in computerized educational tools, according to the letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission.

The commission, which oversees the E-rate program, agrees it should be updated to provide faster Internet service. In July, FCC officials announced plans to review and modernize the program, which has been in operation since 1997.

It was unclear Monday how much the proposed upgrades would cost. FCC officials said that's one aspect of the program they are studying.

The program currently costs $2.3 billion annually. The costs are borne primarily by customers of telecommunication companies that provide interstate or international services. It's one of four programs funded through the Universal Service fees customers are charged on their monthly bills. Altogether, the four programs add up to about $8.5 billion annually, according to the FCC.

Universal Service fees have more than doubled over the last decade to about 15 percent, according to the New York Times.

Other programs funded though Universal Service fees include telecommunications subsidies to low-income residents, rural health centers and rural areas in general.

Critics have said the fees that support the E-rate program are hidden taxes.

Supporters say the program is crucial to students' success in school and their futures in a competitive job market and world.


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