E-Rate Grows, But Critics Still Taking AimApril 29, 1999 |
E-Rate Grows, But Critics Still Taking Aim
Schools and libraries are reaping benefits from the new “e-rate” program, but some conservatives in Congress want to scrap the program.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) has introduced a bill to terminate the e-rate program, through which school districts get discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent off telecommunications charges. Many schools are using the program to obtain Internet connections and upgrade other services.
Tancredo argues that citizens are bearing the cost of the e-rate through higher telephone taxes. Phone companies must provide the discounted service, but most are passing on the costs to their customers, he said in introducing H.R. 692, the E-Rate Termination Act. So far, the bill has picked up 14 co-sponsors.
Supporters of the program say it provides an important benefit to low-income schools, which receive the greatest discounts under the program. Moreover, they note, phone companies received numerous tax and regulatory breaks in exchange for accepting the e-rate commitment.
After a slow start, a nonprofit corporation developed by the Federal Communications Commission began issuing e-rate funding to individual schools last fall. So far, e-rate discounts have totaled $1.6 billion, the bulk of which — $1.37 billion — go to elementary and secondary schools. Of the remaining funds, libraries have received $65 million, and educational consortia $225 million, the government reports.
Schools and libraries have spent the funds to gain Internet access and update their telecommunications infrastructure.
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