RealTime IT News

FCC Distributing First Wave of This Year's E-Rate Funding

A nationwide program to connect schools, libraries and under-served communities to the Internet will receive $2.25 billion in funding this year.

The Federal Communications Commission this week announced that the institutions and communities would receive the full amount of Internet subsidies allowed under rules of the "E-Rate" program.

Last year, 82 percent of the nation's public schools and more than half of the public libraries received discounted services under the E-Rate program, with more than 53,000 urban schools and more than 25,000 rural schools receiving support.

FCC Chairman William Kennard and Commissions Gloria Tristani and Susan Ness enthusiastically confirmed that first wave of funding commitment letters committing $186 million in E-Rate funding would be distributed this week. Other funding waves, committing the remaining funds, will follow.

Kennard said the E-Rate is a cornerstone of the Commission's efforts to bridge the Digital Divide.

"From America's largest urban areas to its most rural and insular regions, the E-Rate is delivering telecommunications services to schools, libraries and communities nationwide," Kennard said.

The e-rate program is in its third year of distributing money to under served areas of the U.S. Over the first two funding years of the program the Detroit Public School District received nearly $40 million in E-Rate discounts to allow its 175,000 students to gain access to the Internet.

The Kuspuk School District in Aniak, Alaska also got connected to the Internet through E-Rate funding. The remote school is only accessible by air. It used the more than $400,000 in discounted funding to wire all of its school buildings and connect its 425 predominantly Eskimo students to the Internet.

Kennard said the E-Rate program has brought to life the promise of universal access to modern communications services at the nation's schools and libraries, regardless of their wealth or geography.

As a result of the E-Rate funding, nearly 63 percent of public school classrooms gained Internet access in 1999, marking a 12 percent increase in Internet access over 1998 statistics. Last year, 82 percent of the nation's public schools and more than half of the public libraries received discounted services under the program.

Kennard said that this year the FCC received more than 36,000 applications requesting $4.7 billion in aid for equipment and services.

"By connecting all our children to the Internet, we will put a whole New World of knowledge and information at their fingertips," Kennard said. "The success of this program has greatly reduced the digital divide between the information haves and have-nots in our society."

Although the FCC will not be able to fulfill all the requests, the new funds for the third year of the project should allow some significant progress toward the goal of connecting every classroom to the Internet, Kennard added.

U.S. Vice President Al Gore applauded the FCC's efforts to connect kids to the Internet. He said the E-rate program would continue to wire schools and libraries in order to bring millions of children across this nation into the 21st Century.

"We still have a lot of work to do before every child in this nation is connected to the Internet," Gore said. "Technology is fueling the engine of our new economy. And by connecting all our children to the Internet, we will put a whole New World of knowledge and information at their fingertips."

E-Rate funding money comes from fees imposed on telecommunications companies, which pass them on to customers in phone bills. Some lawmakers and consumer groups are concerned that the program could lead to higher phone charges for consumers.

Applicants for E-Rate funding will learn about the status of their requests through a Fundi