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Gore Seeks Bill To Earmark F.C.C. Auction Revenues for Schools

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Washington

Vice President Al Gore will work with Congress to develop legislation that would earmark money raised by the Federal Communications Commission's multi-billion-dollar auction of the public airwaves for helping schools connect to the "information highway."

Minutes before opening the unusual auction last week, Mr. Gore suggested that some revenues from the sale of 99 licenses for advanced cellular communications be used to meet the Administration's goal of connecting every classroom to the information infrastructure by 2000.

The auctions are expected to raise more than $12 billion over five years, but the money has already been earmarked for reducing the federal budget deficit.

In a recent interview, the f.c.c.'s chairman, Reed E. Hundt, became the first federal official to suggest that the auction revenues be used to help defray the enormous costs of wiring schools, a proposal that had previously been made by several prominent education groups. (See Education Week, 11/09/94.)

"What people have suggested to me is, 'Isn't this a strange world where you're selling the public property of the airwaves and then just throwing the money into the treasury to reduce the multi-trillion-dollar national debt?"' he said. "Shouldn't we give the public some other public asset to use in exchange?"

Lawsuit Cites School Use

In a related development, a group of school and library organizations has filed a petition with the f.c.c. in an effort to block the reallocation of an unlicensed portion of the radio spectrum. It is currently used by cordless telephones and wireless headphones, but could also provide a low-cost alternative to hard-wiring schools for access to the "information highway."

At its Dec. 15 meeting, the f.c.c. is expected to discuss whether to allow five telecommunications firms expanded access to the frequency to develop an automotive tracking system.

But the petition argues that the new service could cause interference that would drive existing users off the air.

Education groups argue that the frequency could be better used to allow schools to use wireless technology to connect classrooms to the developing "national information infrastructure," avoiding the high costs of retrofitting buildings with wires and cables.

In a letter to Mr. Hundt that accompanies the petition, Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, argues that the f.c.c.'s decision "will have a direct bearing on whether schools and libraries reach the goal expressed by President Clinton and Vice President Gore" of ubiquitous educational access to the information infrastructure.

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