In a nutshell, the universal service, or e-rate, program, which would provide schools (K-12) and libraries with discounts from 20 to 90 percent on telecommunications services (local and long distance telephone service), Internet access, and internal wiring is in SERIOUS trouble.
Despite the fact that more than 30,000 applications have been received, requesting $2.02 billion of the $2.25 billion allotted for the program in 1998, none of the money has yet been disbursed to schools and libraries.
Now Congress is now pressuring the FCC to halt the collection of funds for the universal service program, which, in effect, would halt the program itself until further consideration by Congress.
The Associated Press reports that the request was made in a letter Thursday to FCC Chairman Bill Kennard from the ranking members of the Senate and House Commerce committees, which have jurisdiction over FCC. The signers were Senators John McCain (R-AZ), and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) and Representatives Thomas Bliley (R-VA) and John Dingell (D-MI).
Already, last December, under pressure from Congress and phone companies, the FCC decided to cut funding for the Internet discounts and to provide only $625 million in subsidies to schools and libraries for the first six months of 1998. Previously, as stated above, the FCC had set the amount at $2.25 billion per year.
In effect, then, Congress is attempting to rewrite the Telecommunications Law that it passed in 1996 that authorized the universal service program and mandated that telecommunications companies contribute to the e-rate fund. In the law, Congress attempted to offset this requirement by removing certain levies that the companies were previously required to pay. Now the companies, in particular AT&T and MCI are balking, and Congress is caving in.
After reading the article below that appeared in today's Washington Post, WE URGE YOU TO E-MAIL YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVE, THE FCC, AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES TO OBJECT STRONGLY TO THIS LAST-MINUTE ATTEMPT TO HALT THIS VERY POPULAR AND IMPORTANT PROGRAM.
Ask that the universal service program be implemented AS IT WAS PASSED BY CONGRESS. Briefly explain why this program is so important to your students and your school, your school district, and/or the students of your area.
THE PROCESS IS SIMPLE. You can send an e-mail message by going to the "Save the E-Rate Campaign" site at
The site provides all necessary e-mail addresses and will copy your message to those groups and individuals you select.
Note that while the article below states that the FCC was scheduled to vote on this issue next Monday, the open meeting has now been canceled in favor of a Congressional hearing on the matter on WESNESDAY, June 10.
Pressure from Congress on the FCC is intense. So your e-mail message will matter and must be sent ASAP.
The following article is COPYRIGHTED by the Washington Post. _________________________________
FCC May Suspend Internet Program Angry Lawmakers Target Fund Effort
By Mike Mills Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, June 5, 1998; Page D01
Facing pressure from key members of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of halting the collection of money for a new program to help wire schools and libraries to the Internet, according to agency sources.
Such a move could end hopes by 30,000 schools and libraries nationwide to get discounts this year to establish or upgrade Internet connections. It also could lead to a reduction in special surcharges that long-distance companies have placed on consumer bills to help finance the discounts.
The fees, running as high as 6 percent on bills from companies such as AT&T Corp. and MCI Communications Corp., have angered members of Congress. The companies, however, counter that they are necessary to recoup money that the companies must pay into a new fund set up to provide the discounts.
Only a small portion of the fees actually reach the fund for schools and libraries. Most of the money goes toward other programs to ensure low-cost phone service to rural and poor areas. The FCC argues that long-distance carriers should not impose the fees at all because their costs have been offset by reductions the carriers have enjoyed in the rates they pay to local telephone companies for beginning and ending long-distance calls.
The FCC was deluged with calls and letters yesterday from angry Republican and Democratic lawmakers, demanding that the agency stop collecting money for the program.
The agency "should immediately suspend further collection of funding for its schools and libraries program," said a letter signed by some of the leading lawmakers on telecommunications policy -- Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.). "We believe it is too late for the commission to rescue itself merely by tinkering with a fundamentally flawed and legally suspect program."
The letters are "pretty unambiguous," said a FCC staff member, who requested anonymity. "This removes any doubt that we'll stop" the funding, the source said. Before the barrage from Capitol Hill, the FCC had been planning early next week to take less drastic action, such as reducing funding and ensuring that the neediest schools get help first.
A spokesman for FCC Chairman William Kennard said the agency plans to vote on the issue Monday.
Lynne Bradley, deputy executive director of the American Library Association's Washington office, said: "To call for a halt to this [program] is a travesty. There are 30,000 applications in the pipeline. There is clearly a need for this program."
The program, part of a 1996 overhaul of telecommunications laws, is being derided by Republican critics as a new tax imposed by the Clinton administration.
Critics said the FCC, with prodding by the administration, created a schools and libraries program that goes far beyond what Congress intended. The General Accounting Office found that the FCC exceeded its authority by creating a Schools and Libraries Corp. to run the program.
The FCC has collected about $625 million from long-distance companies this year and had planned to bring in as much as $2 billion more by year's end. So far, however, it has not disbursed any of the money.
Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company *******************************************************
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU