Schools must take steps toward filtering the Internet access they provide to children and adults, or they will be denied federal E-rate support for Internet access and classroom wiring starting July 1, the Federal Communications Commission has announced.
The agency, which oversees the federal “education rate” program of discounts for school and library telecommunications services, issued rules April 5 for implementing the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act, which became law in December.
The law states that any school or library receiving federal technology money, under the E-rate, Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or the Library Services and Technology Act, must enforce an Internet-safety policy. The policy is to include technological measures to block or filter Internet access to “visual depictions” that are deemed obscene, child pornography, or “harmful to minors.”
Schools or libraries that receive E-rate discounts only for basic telephone service are exempt from the new rules.
The U.S. Department of Education, which administers the ESEA grants, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which administers the LSTA funds, have not yet said how the law would be applied to the non-E-rate technology funding.
Schools and libraries will have to certify by Oct. 28 that they have Internet-safety policies and filtering-technology measures in place, or that they are undertaking such actions to put filtering in place for the following funding year.
Schools and libraries will have to provide that certification on the E-rate program’s Form 486, which applicants file when they have received their eligible services.
Despite the fall deadline, schools and libraries cannot receive any discounts for the E-rate’s Year 4, which runs from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2002, unless plans for filtering are already under way. An E-rate recipient that runs afoul of the requirement will have to reimburse the E-rate program for any discounts received after July 1.
The requirement includes crafting comprehensive policies to monitor minors’ online activities. Such policies must be drawn up in a process that includes at least one public hearing, the FCC says.
Under the law, an authorized person is allowed to disable the filtering technology to allow adults to have unfiltered access for “bona fide research or other lawful purposes.”
Keith Krueger, the executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, which opposes the filtering law, said that although school officials have put considerable effort into making their Internet access safe for children, they will need to act quickly to make sure they comply with the FCC’s rules.
“Many school districts have not realized this [requirement] is a train coming down the track at them,” he said.
The consortium, a Washington-based organization of school networking professionals, maintains a Web site (www.safeguardingthewiredschoolhouse.org) offering resources to help schools create Internet safety policies.
Two federal lawsuits—led respectively by the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union—were filed last month in a bid to block implementation of the Children’s Internet Protection Act on constitutional grounds.
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2001 edition of Education Week as FCC Issues Rules for Filtering Access to Internet Sites