[ Text Version | Word 97 Version ]

"E-Rate: A Success Story"

Address by
Chairman William E. Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
to the
Educational Technology Leadership Conference - 2000
Council of Chief State School Officers

January 14, 2000
Washington, D.C.

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Introduction

Thank you, Brenda, for that very considerate introduction.

And thanks to Gordon Ambach and Art Sheekey for welcoming me here.

I also would like to acknowledge the presence of one of my staff members, Irene Flannery, who does much of the hard work of the Commission in keeping the E-Rate program moving ahead.

In addition, I want to salute the excellent work being done by Cheryl Parrino, who is CEO of USAC, the group that administers universal service, and Kate Moore, who heads USAC's Schools and Libraries Division. One of Kate's officers, Linda Schatz ("Shots") is Vice President for Outreach, and just won an award from the Chiefs.

But today the real attention should be on you and your colleagues in the field, the professionals who make the E-Rate happen in our nation's schools.

The E-Rate program began with a vision by President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and Senators Rockefeller, Kerrey and Snowe, and Congressman Markey.

But a vision without application remains just a vision, and it is the people in this room who have moved much of the E-Rate program from vision to reality.

When I was in public school, the school technologist was someone who ran the audio-visual machine. They were always popular with the students, because their presence in the classroom usually meant a movie. A movie was something you passively watched, or actively slept through.

Fortunately, times have changed. The movies now shown in classrooms are interactive and computer-based, and your profession no longer takes a back seat in managing education. Now you help drive the whole process, as you have with the E-Rate.

E-Rate Overview

The E-Rate program is a tremendous success, as these amazing figures show:

Overall, the program has committed $3.65 billion to over 50,000 schools and libraries.

That means that in the first two years, E-Rate helped connect one million public school classrooms to modern telecommunications networks.

The program also reduces the "digital divide" between the information haves and have-nots in our society. Fully 70% of the Year Two funding has gone to schools from the lowest income areas, and portions of those funds will reach 70% of the schools under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Finally, the program has connected nearly 13,000 community libraries. Private and Catholic school connections also are impressive: 35,000 and 45,000 classrooms, respectively.

This program is a down-payment on our kids at the beginning of the century that will reap a return on our investment for the rest of this century. It combines two powerful forces - knowledge and the ambitions of our youth - that can continue to fuel the engine of our increasingly high-tech economy.

And comments from the field tell us this:

In Espanola, New Mexico, the school technology coordinator said the E-Rate has allowed his district "to move into the 21st Century, skipping the whole 20th Century."

In Fort Thomas, Arizona, a poor, rural area with many Native American students who are learning by computer for the firs time, the program's coordinator said "Our children's future rests on the e-rate. Without it, none of this would be possible."

The E-Rate program is allowing students in these remote areas to leap into the future, and get a crack at the opportunities common to the rest of the nation.

Role of the Chiefs

I want to thank the Chiefs for helping make these gains possible.

Through your good guidance, we have been able to establish a Year Two funding level of $2.25 billion, and streamline the applications process. That streamlining has included:

Helping applicants to use state master contracts;

Accommodating the competitive bidding process to state procurement cycles;

And customizing forms and improving the on-line filing system.

Some of these ideas have come through the weekly E-Rate teleconference in which you participate, and I hope you will continue to contribute in this way. I realize there is more work to be done on this process, and I welcome your ideas.

Bumps

The E-Rate road has not been without its bumps.

Here in Washington, some members of Congress have expressed concern about the pressure the E-Rate puts on everyone's phone bill, relatively small as that amount might be. In 1999 members of Congress introduced six bills to reduce or cut out the E-Rate altogether.

But as an EdLINC study found, 87% of Americans support the E-Rate, and 83% of Americans believe that Internet access will improve educational opportunities for our children.

Out in the field, we have to remember that the E-Rate program is not a turn-key program. Connectivity alone does not guarantee educational success.

The skills you are called upon to use in introducing new technologies to the schools are demanding, but critically important. Your own conference paper states that if teachers are not trained in using computers, they can hardly be expected to use computers in training their students. Only about one-third of teachers assign computer work to their students on a regular basis.

Teaching effectively through computers cannot be done without connectivity, but E-Rate connectivity is just the first step in a larger process that you in the state departments have to contend with.

Nevertheless, we must keep the success stories in mind.

Your own Hank Marockie, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers, was able to significantly increase students' math and reading skills in West Virginia with the help of computers and integrated learning software.

And your conference paper notes that in addition to facilities in West Virginia, advanced broadband networks in North Carolina, Kentucky, Iowa and Texas are contributing to gains in education, workplace training, health and social services.

So it can be done, and the E-Rate program can be your partner in this success.

Low-Power FM

Before I close, I also want to mention another opportunity you should be aware of as education technologists, and that is the proposed Low Power FM program.

These would be small, community-based radio stations that broadcast to between one and three miles in radius. At ten to one hundred watts, they will not interfere with existing, high-power stations.

But they will provide a vitally needed resource for schools, churches, and community groups in reaching their immediate neighborhoods.

The low cost of these new stations will make them available to elementary through high schools throughout the nation.

Just imagine sixth graders covering local events, or interviewing community leaders, or high school bands being heard on the radio. Students would get practical experience in broadcasting, and acquire the understanding that what they see and hear in the media is sometimes subjective. This media literacy is critical to children growing up in this increasingly media-saturated society.

I hope to be able to report soon that the Commission will be licensing these stations.

Closing

I ask your continued support for the E-Rate, and I hope you will help get out the word on the successes you have generated through that program.

I believe the E-Rate program is one of the most significant programs of modern government, and when the history of the program is written, the contributions of your profession will be in the early paragraphs.

I also ask you to look seriously at the Low Power FM program, and if you agree with me that it has great potential for your schools and your students, I hope you will support it.

Meanwhile, I can assure you I will work to keep these and other programs that affect education strongly represented at the Commission.

You and I both are in public service. That makes us colleagues in a large and noble cause, although our employer, the public, is not always aware of our efforts.

But I think we can say today that, at least with the E-Rate, the state of our effort is good, and that our employer is pleased.