The Digital Beat -- E-Rate: Closing the Digital Divide FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 10 Mar 1999 11:44:58 -0800 (PST)

=46WD  CC Replies To: "Benton Foundation" <>

The Digital Beat  3/5/99

        E-Rate Background
        Computers in the Classroom
        First Year E-rate Funding Review
        The Future in Jeopardy
        Action Agenda
        Additional Reading

Data released last week shows that the Nation's commitment to wiring schools
and libraries to the Internet by the year 2000 is helping to close the
digital divide.  But even as the first year of federal funding to support
these efforts provides hope for reaching the ambitious goal, some in
Congress are backing legislation to terminate that program.

The E-Rate Background

The e-rate was established by a bipartisan act of Congress in the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 through the Snowe-Rockefeller-Exon-Kerrey
amendment.  The program provides discounts of 20-90% on telecommunications
services, Internet access and internal connections for schools and libraries=

The Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative
Company, which oversees the e-rate program, has committed $1.66 billion
since November 1998 to aid schools and libraries with connections to
computer networks.  Over 30,000 applicants have applied for more than $2.4
billion in aid.  Although the e-rate program was capped at $2.25 billion per
year, financing was cut in the first year as a result of pressure from

=46unding for the program comes from fees collected from long distance
telecommunications providers who received relief from network access fees at
the same time the e-rate was created.

The e-rate is a response to the tremendous potential of the Internet as a
tool for education and the growing divide of use between schools with
primarily disadvantaged and advantaged children.  In 1994, only 3% of public
school classrooms were connected to the Internet and just 35% of public
schools had any access to the global information network at all.  By 1997,
these numbers had changed dramatically:  78% of public schools had Internet
access and 27% of classrooms were wired.  But with this explosive growth,
great disparities emerged: schools with high poverty rates among students,
schools with high minority enrollment, and smaller schools were much less
likely to have access to the Internet.

Computers in the Classroom

In his 1991 book, Work of Nations, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote
that most schools are failing to teach the creativity, problem-solving, and
lifelong-learning skills required in the new economy.  In the typical
classroom, he argues, "reality has been simplified" into prepackaged lesson
plans, lectures, and textbooks, leaving students little occasion to find
meaning for themselves.  For instance, he says, "the tour through history or
geography or science typically has a fixed route, beginning at the start of
the textbook or the series of lectures and ending at its conclusion.
Students have almost no opportunity to explore the terrain for themselves."

The same year that Reich wrote those words, a report by the Labor
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills suggested that workers
in the future must be able, among other things, to "work on teams, teach
others, serve customers, lead, negotiate, and work well with people from
diverse backgrounds."  The SCANS report, as it was known, also said that the
workplace of the future would require the ability to "acquire, organize,
interpret, and evaluate information and use computers to process it."

Educators and librarians around the country are reporting on their
successful integration of technology into their institutions - and the
popularity among users.  The New York Times recently reported these examples=

Susan Tesada, a geography science instructor at Wawona Middle School in
=46resno (CA) described what the Internet has meant for her students, the
majority of whom speak limited English and are bused in from impoverished
areas, "They have the opportunity to see something outside the three-blocks
of their neighborhood ... something past turning on the TV," she said.
"They can see places that they'd never get to see unless education opens up
the door and motivates them - and it is."

The District of Columbia public library system received a total of $4.3
million in the first year of the e-rate program.  The system's director,
Molly Raphael, said the program brought the Internet to district libraries
for the first time.  "We have a constant waiting line for access."

=46irst Year E-rate Funding Review

The first year of e-rate funding commitments were made by the Schools and
Libraries Division between November 1998 and February 1999.  Commitments
total $1.66 billion - 67% of the funds will be received by urban schools and
11% will go to rural schools.  54% of the funds will help applicants pay for
internal wiring of schools and libraries so they can link local networks to
the Internet.  Another 40% will reduce the ongoing costs of
telecommunications services.

=46unds are targeted at the neediest schools in rural areas and with the
highest proportion of students who are eligible for the free lunch program.
The neediest schools get the highest discounts of up to 90% of their
telecommunications costs.

Recent data released from the National Center for Education Statistics shows
the Nation's goal of connecting schools and libraries by 2000 may be
realized.  By the fall of 1998, 89% of public schools were connected to the
Internet and 51% of classrooms are now wired as well.  In 1996, 74% of
schools with Internet access did so through dial-up services; in contrast,
by 1998, 65% of public schools were connecting to the Internet via
high-speed, dedicated lines.  Most striking, however, is that differences in
poverty levels, minority enrollment and size no longer determine the
likelihood that a school is connected to the Internet (although these
factors do continue to point to differences in classroom access).

"We're making significant strides to get technology to the place where
children learn -- the classroom," U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W.
Riley said. "The 'digital divide' is closing in our nation's schools, but we
have to close the continuing divide in our nation's classrooms."

The Future in Jeopardy

In a statement on March 1, President Clinton reiterated the Nation's
commitment to making the potential of the digital age available to all our

The President said, "Computers, the Internet, and educational software can
make a real difference in the way teachers teach and students learn.
Because of our efforts, children in the most isolated inner city or rural
town will have access to the same universe of knowledge as a child in the
most affluent suburb.  Parents will be able to communicate more frequently
with teachers, and keep up with the progress of their child in school.  Our
children will be 'technologically literate' -- and better prepared for the
high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future."

Applications for the second year of e-rate funding are being accepted now
through April 6 by the Schools and Libraries Division.

But Congress will consider a bill aimed at eliminating the e-rate.  On
=46ebruary 10, Rep Thomas G. Tancredo (R-CO) introduced H.R. 692, the "E-Rat=
Termination Act," with 14 co-sponsors.  The bill would remove the provisions
in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that provide for discounted
telecommunications services for schools and libraries.  The bill has been
referred to the House Commerce Committee.

Action Agenda

The Education and Libraries Networks Coalition (EdLiNC)  has designed an
Action Kit that includes suggested materials to help libraries and schools
spread the word about the benefits of these discounts and to thank those who
have supported the program.  The EdLiNC Action Kit is available through the
EdLiNC Web site ( or by calling

EdLiNC is collecting testimonials on how the e-rate is, or will soon be,
helping teachers, students and other members of your community.  These
stories will help ensure that, in the future, the e-rate is available for
all.  EdLiNC is asking that any articles, letters questions, or other
information about E-rate activities be forwarded to the "EdLiNC Outreach
Team".  (Via email:; via fax: 202-628-8419; via regular
mail: E-rate Outreach Campaign c/o ALA-Suite 403, 1301 Pennsylvania Ave.,
NW, Washington, D.C. 20004-1701.)

Now is also a good time to contact local media with Op-Eds and Letters to
the Editor relaying the success of the e-rate program.  See the EdLiNC site
for a sample Op-Ed.

Additional Reading

=46or more information about networking and education, see Benton's The
Learning Connection: Schools in the Information Age
<> and What's Working in Education

(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication -- both
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The Digital Beat is a free online news service of the Benton Foundation's
Communications Policy & Practice program <>. Our
aim is to equip you to be engaged in the public debate on the public
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Contributors to The Digital Beat include the American
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and the Consortium for School Networking, the Education and Library Networks
Coalition, Media Access Project (MAP), National Center for Education
Statistics, and the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD)
<> of the Universal Service Administrative Company.

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The American Library Association <> provides leadership
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non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of electronic
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The Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy
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The Consortium for School Networking CoSN <>, a
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The Education and Library Networks Coalition (EdLiNC)
<> was formed to represent the viewpoint of schools and
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Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Coalition seeks to expand the use of
educational technologies in schools and libraries by making sure that these
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Universal Service Provisions of the Act.

Media Access Project (MAP)<>  is a twenty-four
year old non-profit, public interest law firm that promotes the public's
=46irst Amendment right to hear and be heard on the electronic media of toda=
and tomorrow.

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<> is the primary federal entity for collecting and
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The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) <> of the
Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)
<> is responsible for administering the
Universal Service program for Schools and Libraries. Under this program
schools and libraries can apply for discounts ranging from 20% to 90% on
telecommunications services, Internet access, and internal connections.

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