Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Beyond Access: An Analysis of the Influence of the E-Rate Program in Bridging the Digital Divide in American Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Beyond Access: An Analysis of the Influence of the E-Rate Program in Bridging the Digital Divide in American Schools

Article excerpt

Introduction

E-Rate--more precisely, education rate--was enacted as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and a new aspect of universal service programs in the U.S. (Bertot, 2000). The goal of E-Rate is to provide connectivity to network services through universal service principles as presented in Sec. 254 (b) of the Telecommunication Act of 1996:

   Quality services available at just, reasonable, and affordable
   rates, access to advanced services, access in rural and high cost
   areas, equitable and nondiscriminatory contributions from all
   telecom service providers, access to advanced telecommunications
   services for schools, health care, and libraries, and
   technology-neutral principle (not to promote the attainment of
   universal service through any particular telecom technologies)
   (http://www.fcc.gov/wcb/tapd/universal_service/).

In the past, universal service has ensured affordable telephone services in rural communities. Recognizing the growing importance of new technologies and the Internet to improve education, the U.S. Congress voted to create E-Rate and provide up to $2.25 billion annually in discounts on telecommunications, Internet access, and internal networking to American schools and libraries. The program's expectation is to "help open new knowledge, learning and education to all Americans--rich and poor, rural and urban..." (Education and Library Networks Coalition [EdLiNC], 2003).

According to the Center for Children and Technology (2001), while technology holds great potential to help teachers and administrators overcome inequities in the classroom or the school system, it can also perpetuate and amplify existing inequities. A similar concern, the issue of digital divide in general, has been a perennial debate. Whether or not the digital divide has been bridged by increasingly wide-spread access to information technologies remains controversial (Flamm, 2004; Jung, Qiu, & Kim, 2001).

This paper, therefore, examines the influence that the E-Rate program has had on educational equity over the past seven years (1998-2005) since the endowing of the first grants from the E-Rate program, and how effective the E-Rate program has been in teaching and learning environments. Educational equity involves engaging in proactive action to provide opportunities to all groups in society to ensure equitable educational opportunities for students' success without discrimination.

The next section reviews the literature that deals with E-Rate, its impacts, and introduces E-Rate in more detail. Research questions are derived from the literature on various issues in the E-Rate program. Research methodology includes the rationale for adopting a qualitative analysis, research design, and data collection procedures. Findings through interviews, a document analysis, and discussion appear afterwards, followed by conclusions.

Literature Review and Research Questions

E-Rate provides discounts ranging from 20% to 90% to applicants in rural and urban areas. Larger discounts go to those applicants deemed economically disadvantaged based on the percentage of students eligible to participate in the federal school lunch program. According to section 254 of the Telecommunication Act of 1996, all telecommunications carriers providing interstate telecommunications services and certain other providers of interstate telecommunications are required to contribute to the federal universal service support mechanisms as outlined in 47 U.S.C. [section] 254(d) (http://www.fcc.gov/learnnet/254.html).

The Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC) was established to administer E-Rate, and in 1999 changed its name to the Schools and Libraries Division (hereinafter SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Company (hereinafter USAC; http://www.universalservice.org/sl/). This company's guideline articulates the core features of the program as supporting "connectivity--the conduit or pipeline for communications using telecommunications services and/or the Internet. …

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