FCC Panel Proposes $2.25 Billion in Telecom Discounts
The nation's schools and libraries could receive telecommunications discounts worth up to $2.25 billion a year under a plan proposed by a Federal Communications Commission panel late last week.
The FCC's Federal-State Joint Board approved recommending the educational discounts as part of a larger plan for overhauling federal regulation of the telecommunications industry.
Although the full five-member FCC will not take final action until next May, the joint board's recommendations typically carry a great deal of weight in that process. Three FCC commissioners sit on the board, which also includes representatives from state public utilities and consumer groups.
"Schools and libraries will pay something for communications technology, but the telecommunications companies will together meet them more than halfway in funding these partnerships," FCC Chairman Reed Hundt said at a press conference following the vote.
The board recommended that schools and libraries receive discounts on "any telecommunications services, internal connections among classrooms, and access to the Internet."
The minimum discount would be 20 percent, but the board proposed that most schools receive cuts between 40 percent and 90 percent depending on their financial status.
As an example of the plan's potential impact, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., a co-sponsor of the congressional measure calling for the discount, said it will assure that schools in the poorest West Virginia county are able to connect to the information highway the same as schools in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"There cannot be any second-class citizenship," Mr. Rockefeller said at the press conference. "The result of this vote is an enormous win for students, no matter where they live."
Mr. Rockefeller, along with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, last spring helped attach an amendment to the massive Telecommunications Act of 1996 requiring that schools and libraries receive substantial discounts from telecommunications companies.
As federal regulators began hammering out the details, dozens of education groups formed a coalition called EdLiNC to lobby for the most comprehensive discount possible. The umbrella organization now represents more than 30 groups, including the National Education Association, the American Library Association, and the National Association of Independent Schools. ("School Groups Join Forces in Quest of Telecomm Discounts," Oct. 2, 1996.)
Under the recommendations approved last week, telecommunications companies would pay for the discounts to schools and libraries by contributing to a "redistribution fund." The board proposed capping the pool at $2.25 billion a year and said any leftover funds could carry over into the next year.
Education groups were pleased with the panel's recommendations.
"The preliminary reading is that many of the pieces of the EdLiNC recommendations are included," said Jeff Burnett, the director of government relations at the NAIS.