Report: E-Rate Brings Communications to 90 Percent of Low-Income Schools

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3/5/2007—Last week the Education and Libraries Networks Coalition (EdLiNC) and the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET) released a report detailing the impact of E-Rate 10 years and $19 billion later. The study showed a dramatic increase in access to communications technologies in schools and libraries. But the study also concluded that the mission of E-Rate is not yet complete.

Adopted in 1997 as an amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, E-Rate expanded the universal access fund to include Internet access support for schools and libraries, providing discounts for telecommunications technologies, with an annual cap of $2.25 billion. Since its formal launch in 1998, E-Rate has provided some $19 billion in discounted services to schools and libraries.

The new report, "E-Rate: 10 Years of Connecting Kids and Community," showed several positive outcomes from E-Rate, including:

  • The ability for all public libraries to offer free Internet access to their communities;
  • An increase in the percentage of American classrooms that have Internet access, from 14 percent in 1996 to 95 percent in 2005 (overall);
  • In rural, low-income, and high-minority school districts, more than 90 percent of classrooms have Internet access; and
  • 2,800 private schools have also benefited from E-Rate.

"As this report clearly shows, just a decade after E-Rate first began, more people than ever before are reaping the benefits of the information age," said Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV), one of the authors of the provision, in a prepared statement. "E-Rate has made technology and the Internet accessible for our students, our teachers, and people of all ages through our local libraries. Thanks to E-Rate, we are quickly advancing toward a world where the digital divide will no longer exist."

But the mission of E-Rate is not yet concluded. Said Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), another author of the provision, "Information is the key to education and to keeping America competitive in an increasingly global economy. The E-Rate program began a decade ago to provide communities' public libraries and schools with the communications tools and resources necessary to share information and educate America's children. While the first 10 years of the E-Rate have helped schools and libraries upgrade and build their technology infrastructure, maintaining and upgrading these public institutions will require a continued effort and continued support of the program. Today's report outlines how essential the E-Rate is to our country's future."

nctet edlink e-rate reportAccordng to EdLiNC and NCTET, more than 30,000 applications for E-Rate discounts are filed every year in the United States. Larger discounts for communications services are provided to applicants from lower-income areas, with discounts on the whole ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent.

The report also cited anecdotally several examples of successes of the E-Rate program. These are cited below (almost) verbatim from the report:

Ho'okena Elementary School in Hawaii, a community where 70 percent of the population are migrant farmers who live in homes that lack telephones, let alone computers. The E-Rate has transformed the school's operations by enabling the school to provide every classroom a working telephone, cable television access, and Internet connectivity. The teachers routinely participate in professional development activities offered by the school district via E-Rate supported videoconferencing. According to Kela Luczon, the school's technology coordinator, "Our kids leave here knowing how to use scanners, digital cameras, and e-mail to reach and interact with someone in another country. They have 21st Century skills even though they are not growing up in a 21st Century environment."

Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools, a socio-economically diverse parochial school system where E-Rate support allows up to 6,000 students to engage in distance learning opportunities on a daily basis. Through the high-speed access supported by the E-Rate, students at Cathedral High School, an Archdiocesan school, take online calculus courses for college and high school credit that equip them with the information and communication literacy skills they need to thrive and succeed in post-secondary institutions.

Clark County School District in Nevada has leveraged its E-Rate discounts to establish a virtual high school to support its rapidly growing student population. Using E-Rate supported services, the district's distance learning program offers synchronous and asynchronous instruction to the district's [approximately] 300,000 public school students. According to Dr. Phil Brody, the district's assistant superintendent and chief technology officer, E-Rate has helped the district provide "the same application or service to all of the students in the district--those at the most affluent school and those at the poorest school--at the same time. It creates an element of equity."

The complete report is available through the links below.

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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Have any additional questions? Want to share your story? Want to pass along a news tip? Contact Dave Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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