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Barton to revisit E-Rate funding

WASHINGTON-New House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), vowing to approach telecom and other issues through the lens of budget deficit reduction, today said he plans to revisit funding of a multibillion-dollar government program for discounted Internet access to schools and libraries around the country.

Barton, holding his first press briefing since succeeding Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) as chairman of the powerful House panel, said he supports the goals of E-Rate-included in the 1996 telecom act and championed by former Vice President Al Gore-but wants to investigate its funding mechanism.

Barton declined to say whether he would seek to reduce the amount of money given to the universal service program. A change in E-Rate funding could impact wireless carrier contributions. Since 1997, E-Rate has award nearly $10 billion in subsidized Internet links for schools and libraries.

In recent years, though, E-Rate has come under fire in connection with allegations of mismanagement and corruption. A House oversight and investigations subcommittee is investigating the E-Rate program.

Elsewhere, the committee leaders said they would pursue spectrum reform, telecom act re-write legislation, broadband and voice-over-Internet. Barton said there is not enough time this year to take action on revisions to the telecom act.

Rep. Fred Upton ( R-Mich.) will continue as chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on telecom and the Internet. Meantime, Rep. Steve Buyer ( R-Ind.) was appointed to the subcommittee.

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