Airwave Auction Should Fund School Wiring, F.C.C. Head Says

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Money from the auction of potentially lucrative licenses to provide advanced telecommunications services should help wire schools for the "information age," the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission says.

In an interview last week, Reed E. Hundt, the chairman of the F.C.C., said for the first time that some portion of the billions of dollars that the federal government expects to raise through the unprecedented license auctions should be spent to help meet Vice President Gore's challenge to wire every classroom in the United States by the end of the decade.

Next month, for example, the F.C.C. will auction licenses to companies anxious to offer modern cellular-telephone service.

"Don't you think the public would like us to take the money that we get from that and build some other public asset?" Mr. Hundt asked. "How about [building] networks in every classroom in the country? Have you got a better use for that money?"

The idea of applying the money raised by the F.C.C. auctions to develop a telecommunications infrastructure in the schools has been popular among education lobbyists since Mr. Hundt first broached the idea of auctioning licenses that the government previously just gave away.

Uncertain Proposition

But such remarks from Mr. Hundt, a friend of Mr. Gore's, may indicate that the Administration is willing to consider dedicating some federal revenue to providing schools with access to the "information highway."

The F.C.C. expects to raise $12.6 billion over the next five years by auctioning access to the public airwaves. But Mr. Hundt conceded that the commission has no authority to earmark the money raised by the auctions.

Don Gips, the deputy director of the F.C.C.'s office of plans and policy, added that it is unclear whether the federal Office of Management and Budget could reallocate any of the revenue or would support such a goal without a Congressional mandate.

Officials noted that pressure from Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, with whom Mr. Hundt works closely, could help build momentum for the idea.

Mr. Hundt noted that the costs of wiring schools--which Mr. Riley has estimated at $10 billion--is a major stumbling block to bringing schools into the digital age.

"If you can fund the one-time costs of building the network, then the transmission costs can be very, very cheap," he said.

Vol. 14, Issue 10

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