WASHINGTON (May 29, 1998) -- An unprecedented nationwide cyber-lobbying effort to save the "E-Rate" (education rate) program has generated more than 10,000 e-mail messages to Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and major telecommunications companies.
The "Save the E-Rate Coalition" was launched by six public and private education groups on May 6, in response to attacks on the program by telecommunications companies. Concerned citizens nationwide have used the coalition's interactive website (http://congress.nw.dc.us/e-rate) to send 10,361 e-mail messages urging full funding for the program to their members of Congress, FCC commissioners, and six telecommunications companies.
The E-Rate program, created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to provide discounted Internet access, internal connections, and telephone service to America's schools and libraries, is under attack, despite strong nationwide appeal.
"Clearly, there is nationwide support for this program," said Msgr. Thomas J. McDade, Secretary of Education for the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC). "The flow of messages shows no sign of abating. Americans want their children's schools and libraries to have access to technology, and they want the E-Rate program to be fully funded. Now, we know that members of Congress are hearing us."
On May 22, eight U.S. Senators sent a bipartisan letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard supporting the E-Rate program and urging "that all valid applications to this program be fully funded." Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), James M. Jeffords (R-VT), John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Robert Kerrey (D-NE), John H. Chafee (R-RI), Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), wrote: "Technology skills are no longer a luxury for students -- they're a necessity. Jobs increasingly require high-tech skills. Without knowledge of computers and the Internet, today's students will have great difficulty competing in tomorrow's economy."
Demand for the E-Rate program is high: over 30,000 applications were received in its first 75-day application period. The Schools and Libraries Corporation, which administers the program, estimates that total requests for discounts in 1998 at $2.02 billion. However, the FCC has signaled that only $1.67 billion will be made available to fund discounts in 1998.
"If this lower funding level is adopted," warned Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), "many valid school and library applicants could be denied discounts for 1998. That would be an especially devastating blow to many rural and poor communities." In addition, telecommunications companies such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are undermining the program by threatening to pass along the cost of their contributions to the program to residential phone customers after July 1.
"If we want our children to compete with students from other countries in the next century, access to technology -- and the Internet -- must be as commonplace in tomorrow's classrooms as textbooks, blackboards and chalk are in today's," said Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association (NEA). "Something tells me Internet access -- and its benefit to students -- isn't even a topic of debate in Berlin, Stockholm, or Tokyo."
"Wiring of classrooms and libraries is critical to improving student achievement," said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. "School boards across the country are working tirelessly to upgrade their districts' technology capability, but they need the help that the E-Rate will provide." The "Save the E-Rate" coalition includes AASA, the National Association of Independent Schools, the National Catholic Educational Association, NEA, the National School Boards Association, and the USCC.