As a former teacher, the son of a teacher, the brother of a
librarian, and the father of three students -- currently in
second, 6th and 9th grades -- I am honored to receive this
Special Achievement award. It has been a privilege to have a
role in the drive to bring modern technology to public education
-- to put the tools of the information age into the hands of
every student -- to find new ways to achieve the longstanding
goals of high quality and true equality of education for all.
But most important, it has been a privilege to work with groups
of concerned and active community leaders like you.
I wish to acknowledge your president, Anne Bryant. Anne has
made our lives much easier at the FCC by making classroom
technology one of your top priority issues. I know also that the
National School Boards Association is blessed with a dedicated
and talented staff. Of the many who should be mentioned,
Michelle Richards and Sammy Quintana, who have been sources of
wise counsel from the board's-eye-view. In addition, I also want
to acknowledge some of the other organizations not represented
here today that have teamed with the NSBA to present a united
educational front throughout the FCC proceeding: the National
Education Association, the American Library Association, the
American Association of State School Administrators, and the
Council of Chief State School Officers.
I last had the opportunity to talk with you on October 24 in
Dallas, at your Technology and Learning Conference. Two weeks
later, on November 7, the Joint Board on Universal Service made
an historic recommendation: two and a quarter billion dollars
should be set aside every year for the sole purpose of providing
tremendous discounts to schools and libraries as they purchase
advanced telecommunications services.
November 7, 1996 is a date that will long stand out in the
history of American education. The Joint Board on that day gave
concrete form to the notion that every American child is entitled
to the same quality of education regardless of how poor they are
and where they live. On that day, Horace Mann, John Dewey, all
the teachers who have made America great, all who have ever
looked for new ways to teach young minds in impossible
circumstances, all would give us a big A for appreciation.
President Clinton said in his Second Inaugural Address that
we must guarantee that in the next century "the knowledge and
power of the Information Age will be within reach, not just of
the few, but of every classroom, every library, every child."
President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary Riley and many
other members of the Administration have done much to bring
affordable access to education technology to the head of the
But the Joint Board's work is directly attributable to the
success of a bipartisan Congress in passing our new
telecommunications law. Senators Snowe, Rockefeller, Exon and
Kerrey fought for the provision in that law that made this plan
part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That provision of
the legislation is known by their names.
Congress intended the Joint Board and the FCC to solve two
problems of technology into schools -- unequal access and
unsustainable expense. Study after study show that the cost of
telecommunications technology relegates most schools in poor and
high-cost areas to second-class status. One group presented an
informal study to the Joint Board that showed that the same high-speed phone line cost $237 per month in urban Portland, Oregon
and $2,080 in rural Lakeview, in the same state. I recently
heard from a teacher in rural Bullhead City, Arizona, who told me
that Bullhead had finally gotten its first local Internet dialup
access but that the local school was going to be charged $130 per
month for a phone line and it just couldn't afford that.
Meanwhile, the exclusive Dalton School in New York City is a
showpiece of the electronic age. One hundred years ago only the
exclusive schools had libraries. For a century we've been
struggling to put the resources of the Paper Age in all schools.
In the next century all schools should be equipped like Dalton.
And we shouldn't spend 100 years working on this goal. Under our
new law we intend to start this fall and by the time the century
starts we want all schools on line, with technology fully
integrated into the students' lives.
The Joint Board came up with a way to put technology into
our schools on an equal basis and at the same time transform
those schools and libraries into the community hubs they can and
should be. The final vote on the program was a unanimous 8 to
nothing, with state and federal, Republican and Democratic
commissioners voting together. So bipartisanship is alive and
well at the FCC.
All the FCC Commissioners who were part of that vote --
Commissioners Ness, Chong, and myself -- are committed to
bringing that vote into reality by passing implementing rules at
the Commission by May 6 of this year.
Now we need to make the program of connecting classrooms
work in practice. We're assembling the mandate but the hard work
is just beginning.
Meanwhile, we are drawing close to the first anniversary of
the signing of the Telecom Act, and the press has begun assessing
what has happened since then. Predictably, the media's slant is
skeptical. Many are writing that nothing happened, or at least
nothing good happened. Voices in the wilderness have cried out
that Rome was not rebuilt in a day; that the enormous,
monopolistic communications sector is not going to be fully
competitive and innovative in only a few months; that the FCC and
the courts and the state commissions have not even finished
implementing in rules and decisions the most elemental reforms
that Congress ordered a year ago. These voices are not
But none of us here should be on the defensive. In fact,
the Joint Board's landmark step towards putting technology in
every classroom is a revolutionary act.
The truth is that right now, policy changes are running far
ahead of plans and programs in schools, in markets, in
laboratories. The country is only just beginning to cope in the
real world and in real time with the tremendous changes in our
telecommunications policy and with the many, many dimensions of
the communications revolution.
For instance, the target date for the first implementation
of the new technology in the nation's classrooms is only ten
months away -- September 1997. Who's got a plan? How many
schools are ready? Now is the time to begin marshalling your
community's resources around this effort.
I don't need to explain to this group what making technology
ubiquitous in the nation's classrooms will mean. I don't need to
spend time talking about how integrating computers into the
educational process accelerates learning, how grades go up and
discipline problems down, as the marvelous Union City, New Jersey
experiment has shown. I don't need to talk about the dramatic
effect on Gross National Product, on income distribution, on your
children's ability to get good jobs with good wages. You know
already that by the year 2000, 60% of all new jobs will require
working with computers.
But maybe I do need to describe briefly how the system we're
designing might work. It's supposed to start with this new
school year. So we will need your help as soon as you go back
The Joint Board's recommended plan works as follows: all
of the nation's phone companies will contribute a small
percentage of their revenues to a fund. Of this overall fund,
the Joint Board recommended that two and a quarter billion
dollars be available every year to provide discounts for schools
and libraries when they buy telecommunications services. That's any
telecommunications services. Other monies will go, for example,
to reduce the price of telephone service to homes in remote rural
This means that a public school with an impoverished student
body could get as much as a 90% discount on high-speed phone
lines that can be used for data transmission; or on wireless
technology that can hook laptop computers to the Internet
anywhere in the school building.
Where's the catch? Well, there really isn't one. In many
respects this is another example of something American government
in its finest moments does well, preparing in advance to meet
massive challenges in the future.
The American lend-lease program armed Britain to fight the
Second World War even before Pearl Harbor. The Marshall Plan,
more than the atom bomb or our military might, saved Western
Europe after that war. Now our country's effort to put the tools
of the information age in the hands of every students in every
classroom in our new way to fight the 21st century war against
ignorance, against unequal opportunity, against despair.
In many ways, this is the ideal government program that the
President was referring to in his Inaugural Address when he said
that "We have resolved for our time the great debate over the
role of government. Today we can declare: government is not the
problem. . . "
That is exactly right. As Abraham Lincoln said, the purpose
of government is to do what needs doing and what none of us can
do so well acting alone.
President Clinton also said, "We, the American people, we are the solution." And sometimes we, the American people, need to act together in partnership with government to solve our common problems.
That's what the classroom connection program known as Snowe-Rockefeller does.
Still, some say the schools will buy services they don't
need, waste the money and end up with closets full of
disconnected computers and unused phone lines. But we're
building safeguards into the program to insure prudent planning.
Some critics say the schools are already wired -- wasn't
that what Net Day was all about? We will need the volunteer
spirit of Net Day, but Net Day won't pay a distance learning
bill. We're designing an ongoing working system. After the
barnraising you've still got to feed the cows. That's what we're
And some say it's a mistake to pay for networked computers
when roofs are leaking and there's no chalk for the blackboard.
I understand this: I used to teach in a school where the
blackboard was cracked, the overhead projector was AWOL, the
chairs were broken, and the roller maps showed Hawaii and Alaska
as territories. Fifty percent of my seventh graders were not
expected to graduate from 9th grade. That wasn't only because
the tools of the teaching trade were broken or missing. But the
message sent by the lack of resources was not missed by my
students. By giving so little to that school, we gave little
help or hope to the kids in it. By making each classroom in each
school a shining example of brilliant opportunity to explore the
new worlds of knowledge that technology gives us, we will be at
least telling the Americans who will lead us in the 21st century
-- the children of today -- that we truly care about their
Once this system gets up and running, and if your schools
take advantage of it to the full extent, it should be a great
equalizer. What we can do is make sure that the inequalities stop
at the schoolhouse door and at the front steps of the library.
And that is the power of technology.
Our goal is that by September of this year, all the phone
companies will have started to pay into the fund, making
discounts available to your schools. You may want to think about
engaging in some general "consciousness-raising" to invest every
part of the school community in this project. You might follow
the example of the PTA in the Matsuyama Elementary School in
Sacramento, which formed a technology committee and has begun
holding "technology nights" where teachers and parents learn the
mysteries of the Net. You might want to copy the Marshalltown,
Iowa School District, that convened a Technology Standards Board
Perhaps the most important piece of preparation is to figure
out exactly what your school already has in the way of
You will probably want to set up a meeting with the relevant
school officials. At the very least, this means the chief
technology administrator for your school district or, if there is
nobody with that specific responsibility, then the officer who
has general purchasing authority for the district or the school.
When the time comes for your school to apply for discounts under
this program, these officials will decide what kinds of services
to buy. So talk to them now.
Does your school already have a technology plan? Federal
grant programs run by the Department of Education, the Department
of Commerce, and the Department of Energy all require technology
plans. If your school or district participated in any of these
programs they may have a plan that will need only to be updated.
For a quick overview, try getting on the Internet and going to
www.ed.gov/Technology/techno.html. Or call us for free at 1-888-CALLFCC. One of the best resources is a compilation of plans
published by the Institute for the Transfer of Technology to
Education of your own Association.
You might also ask whether your state has ever required a
technology plan. Again, your school officials should know the
answer, although if they tell you "no," you might want to ask
them to start marshaling other kinds of information that they
will surely have, such as a diagram showing all of the existing
phone lines in a school.
If there is no formal technology plan, you will need to find
a way to assess your school's needs top to bottom.
What are you going to need to know? Keep in mind that the
goal is to bring advanced technology into your school for as
little money as possible while deriving the maximum educational
benefit. This means finding out whether the school is already
fitted with high-speed phone lines, like fiber optic cable. Is
there cable television in the school? Is the electrical plant of
the school capable of handling a sizable injection of new
technology? Is there a phone jack? Is there an electric socket?
What kind of computers does the school have?
For classroom purposes, there is no comparison between an
IBM 286 and a high-capacity multimedia computer. The Department
of Education and other experts have said repeatedly that students
need multimedia computers to make technology a truly integral
part of their education. The truly spectacular computer
programs, like a wonderful full-semester course on the
cardiovascular system put out by the Computer Curriculum
Corporation, will not run on Apple IIs. These courses make up
for deficiencies in labs or libraries -- but you need to get
Think also about what exactly is being done with computers in your schools. Are they in a computer lab or in the classrooms? Are they networked together or do they stand alone? How are students using them? There is -- literally -- a world of difference between the eighth grade class that communicates regularly with a Mayan archeological dig, using sophisticated software to map the course of the dig, and the class that uses computers the same way you and I used typewriters when we were in school. Nothing is more frustrating to students than having initiative choked off by the lack of resources. One mother from North Carolina told me that her children's school had 20 computers for 650 students. Using the Internet, her daughter and some friends were taking a college physics class from a professor in Texas, but the limited number of computers meant that their questions had to be carefully rationed out.
Rationing questions? What message does this send an
inquiring mind? That's an idea for me at a press conference
maybe -- but not part of a sensible education.
Finally, you will want to know whether your school
participates in any program that teaches teachers to use
technology. Darius Wei at Indiana Academy carries the typical
high school class load. And he is also the school's network
system administrator. The school is lucky to have him -- but it
needs a plan to train his successor -- since he'll be leaving
soon for Harvard of Microsoft, or both.
Does your school have any vehicle for a partnership with a
local college or university? Are there any local businesses that
have volunteered to take this on? If you need resources, you
might try contacting the NHPTV Knowledge Network at
1-800-639-3413, or the University of Montana's Information
Training Resource Center. The Website for that is itrc30.itrc.umt.edu/
or you can call us at 1-888-CALL FCC.
In the event there is no such comprehensive plan, you will
want to seek outside assistance. You or one of your fellow board
members may have a particular expertise in this area. For
example, if you are in Armonk, New York, you may have an
information systems specialist from Xerox headquarters on your
board. Or if you are in Detroit, it may be that the person who
manages the computer systems for a Ford office building is on
your board. Remember that advanced telecommunications are
virtually ubiquitous in the corporate world, so it is no longer
necessary to live in Silicon Valley to have access to
technological expertise. Kelly Gammon, a Systems Analyst at
Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati wrote me some
time ago that she was helping her old high school get connected
to the Internet. Someone asked her and she responded.
Productive partnerships are in place already. Early this
year, IBM announced a five-year agreement with the Metropolitan
School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis to jointly
develop and implement a technology strategy for the district to
manage its $5- to $6-million annual technology budget. Another
example: next month, TCI Cable is sending staff into 200 Los
Angeles schools to do a top-to-bottom assessment of technology
needs. A school district in Mississippi has partnered with a
local Air Force Base.
Perhaps the model for these partnerships is the SmartValley program in Northern California, which brings together businesses and school boards like yours to wire schools from top to bottom and educate teachers. You can reach Smart Valley by calling Pete Sinclair at 408-562-7703.
If you have difficulty finding a corporate partner, you will
want to look to the not-for-profit world. The city of Sudbury,
Massachusetts turned to the Nonprofit Computer Connection, part
of the Technical Development Corporation in Boston. You can call
them at 617-728-9151.
The course I just described may sound like a full-time job,
and it would be full-time for me if I tried to go through it on
my own. The good news, however, is that the rules we draw up
will not require your school to provide us with too much detail
to qualify for funds. It was never the goal of the Joint Board
to enmesh the federal government in the daily activities of the
nation's schools. What we expect is that your schools will
ultimately fill out very simple application forms -- which we are
designing right now -- that will represent the tip of the iceberg
as far as technology planning goes.
I am enormously proud of the work the FCC has done to bring
within reach the networking of this nation's classrooms. But --
and this takes me back to the beginning of my speech -- it would
be a mistake to see this as something totally separate from the
rest of the FCC's activities. It's not: it's integrally related
to the FCC's primary mission.
At the instruction of Congress and the President, this
agency is in the business of reintroducing competition to the
field of telecommunications so that consumers will get a range of
telecommunications technologies at reasonable prices.
There will always be places where the markets won't work.
Where we determine that there is a call for benefits that the
market will not produce -- such as cheap and universal access to
education technology -- we can design a clear, focused, and
market-driven structure to meet those needs.
Too often the burden of preparing these future leaders has
rested with individuals who take small but heroic actions on
their own. During the Joint Board proceeding, I received an
email from Sandra Hildreth, a teacher in Canton, New York. She
described the painstaking way she introduced computers to her
students, first by spending her own money on a computer and then,
over time, by applying for a series of grants and fellowships
that she used to keep the technology current. And still, Sandra
said, she lived with the constant fear that the grant money would
stop flowing and her students would lose access to this wonderful
technology. This isn't fair and she's not alone: many teachers
spend between their own money on basic classroom supplies. This
used to be just books and paper; now it's telecommunications too.
The Joint Board has offered a helping hand to these local
heroes -- and sealed its place in history -- and the FCC is part
way there, and now it's going to be up to all the other
participants in the education system. The trick is going to be
to realize that only concerted and dedicated grassroots efforts
will bring success. Thank you for your efforts. We're doing the
right thing, and we welcome your support.