Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

FCC 'Downsizes' Discount Internet Program

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

FCC 'Downsizes' Discount Internet Program

Article excerpt

FCC `Downsizes' Discount Internet Program: Corporate pressure blocks public schools and libraries from getting information superhighway discounts

Public schools may get smaller than expected discounts on Internet connections following recent action by the Federal Communications Commission.

By a 3-2 vote, FCC commissioners voted to scale back the "e-rate" -- the special discounts designed to connect schools and libraries to the information superhighway. Congress passed a law in 1996 creating the discounted rate, but major corporations -- including AT&T and MCI -- lobbied successfully for relief from some of the law's requirements.

Education advocates, however, decried the changes, claiming schools already have made plans expecting the deep discounts originally promised under the law.

"The massacre of the infant e-rate continues," said Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.), a Congressional Black Caucus member. Owens charged that "greedy corporations" are trying to deny children "vital access to education technology in their schools and libraries."

Under the new plan, telecommunications companies will pay no more than $1.92 billion into the e-rate fund during the first eighteen months of the program, a period that will last through June 30, 1999.

But the original plan called for $2.25 billion in corporate contributions in 1998 alone -- with additional contributions expected next year. As a result, critics note start-up funding may be only 50 percent of the program's original projections for its first two years.

"This agreement is deeply disappointing," said Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. "Thousands of school districts have already signed contracts and set budgets based on the discounts that were promised."

Schools and libraries nationwide have applied for $2.02 billion in discounts -- about $100 million more than the corporate contributions expected by mid-1999. That figure does not include applications that other schools and libraries expect to file by next June.

While it is unclear how the FCC decision will affect discounts, many predict it will pit schools against each other for limited funds. Only the poorest schools initially may get funds, even though schools of all sizes have made technology plans -- and, in many cases, signed contracts -- based on the earlier projections. …

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