Magazine article American Libraries

FCC Approves Telecom Subsidies for Libraries, Schools

Magazine article American Libraries

FCC Approves Telecom Subsidies for Libraries, Schools

Article excerpt

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously May 7 to implement discounted telecommunications services to the nation's libraries and schools. The new rules, which substantially follow the recommendations made by the Federal-State Joint Board last November (AL, Dec. 1996, p. 11), mandate discounts ranging from 20-90%, with deeper discounts for libraries and schools in rural, high-cost, and low-income communities. The plan is expected to provide up to $2.25 billion annually beginning January 1, 1998.

The discounts will be funded by raising federal taxes on residential and business customers with more than one phone line. The FCC imposed a $1.50 monthly charge on second residential lines and a $3 charge on business lines.

The rules were part of an overhaul of telephone rates designed to phase out the subsidies that have long undergirded the industry. A key element was a reduction in the access fees that long-distance companies pay to local phone companies, a savings that is expected to be passed along to customers.

ALA praised the FCC's decision. "For those who have no other access to online information resources, libraries are the natural access points," said ALA President Mary Somerville. "These discounts will help the libraries of the 21st century make information technology a reality for millions of children and lifelong learners."

Barbara Ford, president-elect of ALA, observed that the rules incorporate many of the key principles advocated by ALA. "Now every American can have global reach via local touch at their library."

Carol Henderson, executive director of the ALA Washington Office, commended the efforts of FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and the other commissioners. She termed the final decision a victory for libraries and the public they serve. "We look forward to working to make universal service an effective policy and to assure that the new age of telecommunications and information becomes a reality for all," she added.

Following the FCC meeting, Hundt and Vice-President Al Gore and celebrated the universal service initiative with a coalition of educators and librarians at the National Geographic Society in Washington. "For most schools and libraries, the cost of both telephone and Internet access will be cut in half," said Gore. …

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