FCC Approves "E-Rate" for Schools & Libraries

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in May issued a landmark ruling that will permit U.S. schools and libraries to receive substantial discounts on telecommunications services, including Internet access. The discounts, ranging from 20% to 90%, will take effect in January 1998.

The FCC regulations formally implement provisions of the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996. The size of the discounts will depend on the wealth and geographic location of the institution. Private schools with endowments under $50 million may also be eligible for discounts.

Discounts can be applied to the cost of wiring facilities to connect to the Internet as well as to the fees paid to Internet Service Providers. The FCC ruling mandates that all telecommunications providers contribute to an expanded Universal Service Fund, capped at $2.25 billion a year, to support school and library access.

Vice President Al Gore said the FCC's approval of the so-called "E-Rate" (Education Rate) represents "a great step forward in closing the gap between the information haves and the information have-nots."

The Education Department recommends that districts start preparing for the discounts by conducting a needs assessment and taking an inventory of current technology and capacity. The Education & Library Networks Coalition (EdLiNC) has assembled an online information kit (www.itc.org/edlinc/discounts/specialreport1.html) that provides more details on the FCC ruling.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.