Legislation to free hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for school Internet connections that had been frozen by a change in accounting rules won final approval Wednesday from the U.S. Congress.
Moments before lawmakers adjourned for the year, the Senate passed by voice vote the bill earlier approved by the House of Representatives, which includes a package of telecommunications measures. The bill now goes to President Bush to be signed into law.
One provision will temporarily ease accounting rules that forced the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year to freeze funds from the so-called E-Rate program.
The E-rate program, administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), is used to subsidize Internet and other communications in schools as well as rural health care programs.
It is funded by companies that offer long-distance telephone service, like AT&T Corp. and Verizon Communications. They typically pass on those charges to customers.
Without the accounting changes, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the agency could be forced to seek more money from carriers to raise fees for the program.
In August the USAC was forced to freeze hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for the E-rate program in order to comply with certain government accounting standards.
Although popular, the E-Rate program has also been dogged by allegations of waste, fraud and abuse, prompting investigations by federal prosecutors, the FCC and Congress.
The bill also includes provisions to create a fund that would reimburse government agencies that move from certain wireless airwaves to make way for commercial services. The money to fund the program would come from proceeds raised in the auction of the airwaves.