Published Online: April 11, 2001
Published in Print: April 11, 2001, as Federal File


Federal File

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Something in the Air

The federal government is auctioning off the rights to portions of the United States' publicly owned airwaves—the swath of the electromagnetic spectrum used for sending electronic signals within the nation's borders—and some see a potential payoff for schools and other good causes.

Rather than return all of the auction proceeds to the federal treasury, a coalition of major foundations and educational, museum, science, and arts organizations called on Congress last week to put $18 billion over three years into a trust to support innovation by public-service organizations.

The trust would help the groups use digital tools to widen their audiences and deliver information, essential services, and cultural programs to all citizens, coalition members said during an event at the National Press Club in Washington last Thursday.

"The nooks and crannies of our libraries, museums, and other nonprofits hold cultural and educational treasures, yet these treasures stay locked tight," said Lawrence K. Grossman, a former president of NBC News and the Public Broadcasting Service, who is one of the leaders of the coalition.

"A digital trust would find innovative ways to unlock these treasures for every American," he said. "It will make the convergence of the Internet, television, and other telecommunications technologies better than any of them individually."

Functioning as a venture-capital fund, the trust would focus on developing educational prototypes and models through the digital transformation of archives, training materials, online courses, civic information, and arts programs, according to the coalition.

"The trust would ... make available the marvels of our libraries, colleges, and museums to every home, school, and workplace," said Newton N. Minow, another leader of the coalition and a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and PBS.

The coalition's report can be downloaded at

— Andrew Trotter

Vol. 20, Issue 30, Page 29

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