I've been writing about the dysfunction of the FCC's E-Rate program
for a very long time. The system, which you pay into via Universal Service Fund (USF
) fees, is designed to deliver broadband and technology services to the nation's schools and libraries. Instead, like the larger USF, it's more like a slush fund, where money paid in frequently isn't tracked by the government, and spending accountability is minimal to non-existent. As you might expect, this has traditionally resulted in oodles of fraud
by both carriers and schools.
At various times, between 26% and 40% of USF funds have been poured into E-Rate, and the program has doled out more than $25 billion since its inception in 1998. The program has great potential and occasionally great successes, yet it js repeatedly marred by the fact the FCC historically has not done a good job tracking spending. For years now, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued an endless flood of reports on how the FCC should actually pay attention, and for just as many years the FCC has insisted they'd get right on that.
With that as a backdrop, there's yet another E-rate scandal brewing in New York City, where new reports have popped up that sing an all-too-familiar tune. The New York Jewish Week
has been running a series of stories noting how numerous schools (and libraries that in some cases aren't really libraries) are getting millions in E-Rate funds -- despite the fact they offer no Internet connectivity or computer use to students
. The schools see Internet use as a "corrupting force capable of undermining their way of life," yet happily gobble millions in funds with the FCC napping:
Recent graduates (of Yeshivat Avir Yakov) report never having seen — let alone used — a computer in their classrooms, and video of the inside of the Avir Yakov building shot within the past two weeks and obtained by The Jewish Week seems to support their accounts: not one of the yeshiva’s classrooms, public areas or designated resource rooms seen on the video contains a computer, or even a telephone. So it comes as a surprise that the approximately 3,000-student school has, since 1998, been allotted more than $3.3 million in government funds earmarked for Internet and other telecommunications technology.
This of course has been going on for more than a decade, and the FCC quite simply appears incapable of getting its house in order. Scandals like this keep bubbling up around the country
, and despite jail time and oceans of bad press, the FCC still isn't adequately auditing how your USF contributions are spent.