E-Rate Program, at 10, Is Lauded for Helping Wire Schools

By Rhea R. Borja — March 06, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

At a Capitol Hill forum last week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the E-rate program, policymakers and educational technology supporters called for strengthening the $2.25 billion federal program, which helps build the technology infrastructure of schools and libraries and wire them to the Internet.

The program should aggressively penalize schools, libraries, and companies that waste money, commit fraud, or otherwise abuse the E-rate, participants at the Feb. 28 session said. Over the years, numerous companies and individuals have been convicted of defrauding the program, including a single involving $9 million.

U.S. Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have introduced a bill known as the Universal Services Fund Act that would penalize E-rate participants who repeatedly and knowingly violated program rules. The bill also calls for permanently barring vendors convicted of federal fraud charges from participating in the program.

Several participants at the forum said the telecommunications program should also be granted a permanent exemption from the federal Anti-Deficiency Act, which mandates that the federal government pay for programs only with funds already on hand, not with money it projects receiving in the future.

The E-rate, or “education rate,” however, operates on forecasts of revenues paid into the fund by providers of telecommunications services. Since the program’s inception, Congress has passed three measures granting the E-rate program temporary exemptions from the Anti-Deficiency Act. The senators’ bill would make the exemption permanent. In the House, U.S. Reps. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., have co-sponsored a similar bill.

In addition, the Senate bill would set performance measures to track the program’s efficacy, such as the progress of schools and libraries toward achieving Internet-connectivity goals. The bill does not include academic-performance measures, said Barbara Pryor, a legislative assistant to Sen. Rockefeller.

“I’m not sure if [Federal Communications Commission members] want to step into the very difficult field of educational assessment,” she said to appreciative laughs from the audience, which packed a small hearing room in a Senate office building.

The FCC oversees the E-rate program, which has paid for almost $19 billion in discounted telephone services, Internet access, and internal-wiring technology for schools and libraries since 1997. The the Washington-based Universal Service Administrative Co., a nonprofit organization independent of the federal government, administers the Universal Service Fund, which includes the E-rate program.

Staying ‘Vigilant’

Despite some of the E-rate program’s problems over the past decade, those at the forum appeared more interested in celebrating its accomplishments in facilitating greater access to the Internet and other technology for young people.

“It stuns me—our success,” said Sen. Rockefeller. “I don’t think it’s too much to say that this [program] has changed the nature of education.”

Internet access in schools has skyrocketed from 14 percent in 1996 to 94 percent in 2005 with the help of the program, according to a report released at the forum by the Education and Libraries Networks, a coalition of more than two dozen education groups, and the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit group.

In addition, virtually 100 percent of U.S. public libraries now provide free Internet access, and more than 2,800 private K-12 schools have also benefited from the program.

Telecommunications and technology-related companies such as New York City-based Verizon Communications Inc. and the government and education unit of the Minneapolis-based retail company Best Buy Co. sponsored the report.

Sen. Rockefeller said that educators, lawmakers, and other E-rate proponents cannot rest on their laurels. The program’s existence seemed precarious in its early years, and some federal telecommunications laws are scheduled to be overhauled this year.

“We have to keep the pressure on,” Sen. Rockefeller said of ensuring the E-rate program’s continuation, speaking at the forum. “People still want to end the program. That’s why we have to be vigilant.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as E-Rate Program, at10, Is Lauded for HelpingWire Schools


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal AFT's Randi Weingarten on Kamala Harris: 'She Has a Record of Fighting for Us'
The union head's call to support Kamala Harris is one sign of Democratic support coalescing around the vice president.
5 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at the organization's annual conference in Houston on July 22, 2024.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at the organization's biennial conference in Houston on July 22, 2024. She called on union members to support Vice President Kamala Harris the day after President Joe Biden ended his reelection campaign.
via AFT Livestream
Federal Biden Drops Out of Race and Endorses Kamala Harris to Lead the Democratic Ticket
The president's endorsement of Harris makes the vice president the most likely nominee for the Democrats.
3 min read
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, on the final day of the NATO summit in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, on the final day of the NATO summit in Washington. He announced Sunday that he was dropping out of the 2024 presidential race and endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris as his replacement for the Democratic nomination.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal What We Know About Kamala Harris' K-12 Record, and Other Potential Biden Replacements
Harris is the frontrunner for the top of the ticket. A look at her record on K-12, along with those of other Democratic contenders.
8 min read
Vice President Kamala Harris embraces President Joe Biden after a speech on healthcare in Raleigh, N.C., March. 26, 2024. President Joe Biden dropped out of the 2024 race for the White House on Sunday, July 21, ending his bid for reelection following a disastrous debate with Donald Trump that raised doubts about his fitness for office just four months before the election.
Vice President Kamala Harris embraces President Joe Biden after a speech on health care in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26, 2024. Biden on Sunday announced he wouldn't run for reelection and endorsed Harris as his replacement.
Matt Kelley/AP
Federal Opinion The Great Project 2025 Freakout
There's nothing especially scary in the Heritage Foundation's education agenda—nor is it a reliable gauge of another Trump administration.
6 min read
Man lurking behind the American flag, suspicion concept.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty