CenturyLink says E-Rate funding should not be used to fund residential broadband

CenturyLink says a request from a consortium of parties, including Microsoft, to extend E-Rate services to rural students' homes is not in line with the way the statute was written.

The telco said in an FCC filing (PDF) that if the FCC granted the petitions, the regulator would actually cause more harm than good to the E-Rate program.

“Despite good intentions, however, the petitions to use E-rate funded bandwidth without cost allocation would be inconsistent with the statute, raise too many problems, create too many distortions, and create too many risks for the E-rate program,” CenturyLink said in the FCC filing. “The petitions also cannot be granted by the Bureau on delegated authority, but need review and rulemaking by the full commission.”

RELATED: CenturyLink says dark fiber for E-Rate applications should not be treated as "special construction"

Closing the homework gap

In September, two groups petitioned the FCC to allow E-rate subsidized broadband networks to be accessed by students at home for educational purposes.

“We seek comment on two petitions that seek to allow schools and school districts to leverage existing E-rate supported services to allow Internet traffic originating at students’ homes to be directed to and carried over E-rate supported networks without creating an obligation on the applicant to cost allocate out the portion of the traffic attributable to off-campus use,” the groups said in their petitions to the FCC.

Petitioners asked the FCC clarification if they could use TV White Spaces (“TVWS”) technology to extend an eligible school’s E-rate-covered Internet access service to the homes of students in and around those schools for educational purposes. The petitioners said they “do not have to cost allocate out of their requests for E-rate support the traffic that originates off-campus.”

Microsoft, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) filed the first petition while Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic on behalf of the Boulder Valley School District filed the second.  

Overall, the goal that these entities have is to help close the “homework gap” for low-income or rural households.

However, CenturyLink said “the petitions would vastly increase the scope of E-rate supported services, creating a new and growing burden on the limited fund.”

Expanding broadband

For its part, CenturyLink said that it is attempting to close the so-called homework gap by enhancing broadband affordability and availability in rural areas.

The service provider said offering broadband services to low-income families. Under its Internet Basics program, CenturyLink offers several speeds for low-income families with basic service starting just under $10 per month and with a discounted device available.

“CenturyLink offers discounted broadband service to help Lifeline-eligible households get online,” CenturyLink said. “Other providers also have discount programs to help with the homework gap without burdening E-rate – including AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, and Verizon, among others.”

By using CAF-II program funding, CenturyLink is going to deliver deliver a minimum 10/1 Mbps service to rural hundreds of thousands of households in more than thirty states. CenturyLink said the program will address parts of Charlotte and Halifax Counties in Virginia, “where rural households will be seeing the impact of that investment.”