(as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Felix, for that nice introduction. Have you ever thought of making a career down here in Washington?
I want to thank Lynne Bradley, Father Davis, Bob Chase and everyone from EdLINC for inviting me here today. It's an honor to be surrounded by a group of people whose dedication to our nation's children is so deep and sincere.
Benjamin Franklin, a founder of our country and - incidentally -- the founder of Philadelphia Free Library, was always known for his practical advice from "a penny saved is a penny earned" to "haste makes waste."
But Franklin also gave us this gem of investment advice: "If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."
The e-rate is proof of this. Acting on the vision of President Clinton and Vice President Gore and with the hard work of dedicated legislators like Senator Rockefeller, Senator Kerrey, Senator Snowe, and Congressman Markey, we have begun to make an investment in our nation's children that will reap our country benefits for years to come.
Today's EdLINC study gives me concrete evidence of something that I have seen with my own eyes: the e-rate is working. Last year, $1.7 billion in e-rate discounts went to over 80,000 schools and libraries.
Over 38 million kids -- from the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest to the inner-city neighborhoods of Chicago; from a parochial school in Montana to a yeshiva in Queens - are now connected to the Internet. They now have access to the information that their inquisitive minds thirst for and are learning the skills they'll need to compete in the 21st century.
We see this in the Florida Public Schools where Melinda Crowley told us that the computer connections they've purchased in that state with e-rate money now "train kids to be critical thinkers. They're forced to read more, to interact, to follow direction, and to evaluate."
We hear this from Atlantic County, New Jersey where Alyce Bowers, the head of that county's library system, told us how library patrons from the heart of Atlantic City to the county's rural interior are using "the Internet from finding jobs to finding healthcare treatments." She said, "We think the Internet is revolutionizing the reference service departments of public libraries."
And we learn about the importance of the e-rate from Eldon Woodall in Fort Thomas, Arizona, a poor, rural area with many Native American students where they are building an interactive learning environment. He said, "Our children's future rests on the e-rate. Without it, none of this would be possible."
But most of all, we hear about the success and importance of the e-rate from the American people themselves. As the EdLINC study found, 87 percent of Americans su pport the e-rate, and 83 percent of Americans believe that Internet access will improve educational opportunities for all our children.
Knowing the effectiveness of the e-rate program, 32,000 school districts, schools, and libraries from across the country have submitted applications for e-rate funding this year. The demand for the e-rate is high.
These principals, teachers, and parents want to give their children and their communities the best education possible. They want to give their kids the tools and skills they need to seize the opportunities of the next century.
That is why I will recommend to my fellow commissioners that we not curtail funding this year. Rather, I will recommend that we fund as many schools as we can up to the e-rate program's cap.
With the increase in demand, funding to the cap will enable us to continue the work of this past year. Just as in Year One, all schools that apply this year will receive funding for Internet access and telecommunications services. And just as in Year One, we are keeping the focus on funding for internal connections on the poorest and most rural schools.
By following this course, we will be able to wire 528,000 public school classrooms to the Internet. If we meet this high demand, we will be able to help schools that teach 40 million American children. We will allow libraries and schools that never would have been able to pay for these services the chance to connect to the Internet.
It is important to note that this effort is one that we can afford. As we have done over the past two years, we are both restructuring and reducing costs borne by America's long-distance carriers. So even with funding the e-rate to its cap, they will have available another half a billion dollars which can be - and should be - used to further lower long-distance rates for American consumers.
But the e-rate is not only more affordable, it is vital. Funding to the cap is the only way that we can reach those schools and libraries in rural America.
If you have ever traveled through our nation's countryside and spoken to the people who live in its small towns and farms, you will hear firsthand how important these connections are to them.
For these families, these links to the on-line world of instant communication and e-commerce enables them to continue living on the land that they have lived on for generations, and fully be part of our country and our economy.
If we fund the e-rate to this year's cap, we will be able to connect one-third of public schools throughout rural America. We owe it to these children to do this.
We must do this.
We must do this because preparing our children for the high-tech jobs of the future is vital to our nation having a workforce able to keep our economic engine running.
And we must fully fund the e-rate program because it would violate our sense of fairness and decency if all Americans didn't have the equal opportunity to make the most of their lives.
The e-rate is a down payment on our kids and on our future. It is an investment that will reap dividends for our schools, our children, and our country for years to come.
- FCC -