Text Version


SEPTEMBER 22, 1997

[As Prepared for Delivery]

I am so pleased to see all of you here today. Thank you for agreeing to serve on the Universal Service Administrative Company. Thank you for agreeing to serve your country.

A century ago, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, wrote the father of a blind, deaf and apparently dumb girl named Hellen Keller and told him that a teacher named Annie Sullivan might be able to help the little girl.

With this one connection, the universe of people with disabilities was permanently altered. When Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan taught not only each other, but everyone else, that people with disabilities can live full and productive and participating lives, prejudice and isolation and despair were all defeated.

The telephone -- in its modern incarnation as high speed, big bandwidth, network devices -- is now on the verge of another miracle. Modern communications is on the verge of bringing the often lost and isolated world of elementary and secondary school education into the modern age and revolutionizing health care in this country and guaranteeing that rural America shares equally in the economic revolution driven by communications.

A triple play: rare and always wildly applauded. Let's talk first about education.

Public school education is one of the glories of America. Tens of millions of Americans of all walks of life honor this system that has created the fairest, happiest, wealthiest, and most important country in world history.

But public school education is also, sadly, the way we teach inequality to every child in America. From the moment a child walks into a public school he or she learns that the privileged have certain tools and the underprivileged do not. Do you think that the children in the poor school districts don't know that their athletic equipment is secondhand, their books were published in another decade, their desks are broken, and the computers and communications networks and software advertised on TV and deployed across movie screens and displayed behind shop windows are just not there for them?

I was in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago to meet with Mayor Ed Rendell at a school that he is bringing on line. While there I went by the middle school where I taught only 28 years ago. What has changed? Today, the test scores are posted on the Internet: that's the good news; the bad news is the scores are as bad as they ever were. Only 4% of the kids are above the absolute bare minimum in test scores for math, science and reading; 37% aren't even tested because of chronic absenteeism or inability to get through the test. What else has changed?

When I was there the kids typically had their lunch money ripped off on the way to school. Now churches form human cordons to protect the kids on their walk to school, and as long as the gangs are controlled inside the schools, they can buy the hot lunches that about 90% get with a federal subsidy.

I'm sure the teachers at my old school think the way I did: Are we showing kids the way to achieve the American Dream or are we just introducing them to the school of hard knocks?

But Mayor Rendell is going to force change. He has begged, borrowed, and persuaded the state, the voters. And, the private sector to fund a high-speed big bandwidth data network that is going to link together every teacher and student in Philadelphia, and then link the entire wide area network to the world. When I was teaching in Philadelphia I had to beg for a bus to take the kids to Independence Hall. We weren't twenty blocks away from it and not a kid in my seventh grade class had ever been there. It was too dangerous to go that route.

The Mayor is going take Independence Hall to the kids, and while he's at it, he's going to bring them the Library of Congress and tutors from the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University, if these adults are willing to make the commitment. The entire student body of the Philadelphia school system is going to be able to respond to Microsoft's famous slogan: Where do you want to go today? Their answer: We want to go to the school of the world, to the libraries and teachers and fellow students and even to adults in the workplace, taking lunch time or coffee breaks to connect to their kids' teachers, borrowing the company's data network or phone lines or laptops.

Now your purpose here at the USAC is to raise the money to make this new Philadelphia freedom available to every child in every classroom in every county in every corner of the country.Isn't this exciting: We have figured out how to do this without raising local telephone rates one penny. The money comes from long distance revenue, but even there the net result of our decisions at the FCC is to lower long distance prices to the lowest rates ever in American history. And they're still falling.

This new program is not an E-Rate -- a term that does not fully capture the purpose of the program -- it is a matching grant where a national pool of money is shared with local money to make up a total expenditure of $4 billion per year on connecting every classroom to the information highway. Our Universal service order, which we at the FCC adopted unanimously in may, implements the unanimous recommendation of the eight-member Federal-State Joint Board and makes clear exactly what this $4 billion will be spent for: telecommunications services, basic conduit access to the Internet and internal connections in schools and libraries. The money will not be spent, as some critics have charged, on items such as teacher training, personal computers or modems. The school districts will continue to be responsible for funding these items.

This is the biggest single national effort to change education in classrooms K-12 in the history of our country.

The credit goes to President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Senator Snowe of Maine, Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association and to the over 30 other national education and library organizations in EDLINC, which represents parents, educators, students and life-long learners across the country.

Many others helped, but everyone will agree with me that these are the principal heroes, the brave warriors in the legislative fight. Everyone will remember that the House of Representatives leadership would not permit the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to contain the Snowe Rockefeller provision, and that Senator Snowe courageously crossed party lines to make up a 10-8 vote for this provision in the Senate Commerce Committee.

And, everyone knows that even now powerful forces are mustered to defeat the promise of this provision. Southwestern Bell has filed a motion with us seeking a stay against the entire program going into effect. SBC has also filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit opposing our order. This Bell company wants to service schools its way in its territory, and is willing to stop this program for the rest of the country, and to bar the cable industry and the wireless industry and the computer network industry from participating in connecting classrooms. There's a business motive behind every lawsuit in civil court; and we can all see clearly this company wants no competition in the education market. But what they're dong is wrong for the country, inconsistent with the law, and bad for kids.

And everyone knows that the other telephone companies have sat on their hands, letting the one of their number fight the fight for all of them. It's a terrible shame.

Let's change the subject. Let's talk next about the revolution in health care.

Under the program that USAC, and a separate corporation called, tentatively Healthcorp, are going to implement, we will do more to spread telemedecine across the country than has ever been done before. This program is going to reinvent the business model for academic medical centers and at the same time provide the highest quality of medical care that rural America has ever seen. It will also jump start innovation in medical services, profoundly alter insurance and medicare and medicaid reimbursement schemes,and -- most important -- save lives and enhance quality of life.

Pretty good news wouldn't you say? Thank you Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Senator Snowe and Senator Rockefeller. Thanks are also due to our wonderful Advisory Committee on Telecommunications and Health Care, chaired by Greg Lawler. The Advisory Committee provided very valuable advice as to the ways that telecommunications can improve access to health care in vast areas of this country that are rural.

Members of the Advisory Committee included: William C. Bailey, Southwestern Bell; James E. Brick, West Virginia University School of Medicine; Kathryn C. Brown, NTIA; Narciso Cano, Distributed Communications Corporation; Candy Castles, AT&T Wireless Services, Inc.; Ronald D. Coleman, Med-Tel International; Helen R. Connors, University of Kansas Medical Center School of Nursing; Steve Cotton, Texas Tech University of Health Services; Ann Dean, Maryland Public Service Commission; Mary Jo Deering, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services; Senator Judy L. DeMers, University of North Dakota School of Medicine; Charles Dougherty, Creighton University; James H. "Red" Duke, Herman Hospital/University of Texas Medical School at Houston; William L. England, Office of Research & Demonstration, Health Care Financing Administration; Roger Guard, University of Cincinnati Medical Center; Willaim Hawkins, Ethicon Endo-Surgery; Charles F. Holum, Doherty, Rumble & Butler; George H. Kamp, American College of Radiology; Michael G. Kienzle, Unviersity of Iowa College of Medicine; Joan King, National Legislative Council, American Associaion of Retierd Persons; Joseph C. Kvedar, Parners HealthCare Systems, Inc.; Art Lifson, CIGNA Corporation; Mary Jo MacLaughlin, Eastern Main Healthcare; Lousie Novotny, Communications Workers of America; Robert B. Pillar, Public Utility Law Project of New York, Inc.; Dena S. Puskin, Federal Joint Working Group on Telemedicine; Gonzalo M. Sachez, Sioux Valley Hospital; Jay H. Sanders, The Global Telemedicine Group; Al Sonnenstrahl, Consumers Action Network of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans; Thomas R. Spacek, Bellcore; Eugene V. Sullivan, Office of Telemedicine, University of Virginia; Eric G. Tangalos, Mayo Clinic; Cynthia Trutanic, Attorney and Private Consultant; Reed Tuckson, Charles Drew Univeristy of Medicine and Science; Rober Waters, Center for Telemedicine Law; Bill M. Welch, Nevada Rural Hospital Project; Brigadier General Zajtchuk, US Army Medical Research and Material Command, US Dept. of Defense.

The other enormous task of the USAC is to administer our universal service program for low income consumers and high cost areas. This program will ensure that everyone in America can fit a subscription for telephone service into their budget. I mean everyone. There's no reason why anyone should be disconnected, off the Net, out of the loop, unless of course they choose, for the reasons that motivated Thoreau to go to Walden Pond, to live the contemplative, unringable life.

Everyone on the new board that will administer universal service is charged with the high calling and fiduciary duty to implement the FCC rules. Not one member may as a matter of law oppose these rules and I know not one member would ever do that.

I refer especially to our state representative Allen Thoms. I note that Commissioner Thoms has made clear that he will part company with the interests that are suing the schools and libraries program. He hasn't joined them; he has agreed by his presence on this Board to oppose them.

In accepting this position on the USAC, you have all agreed to put aside your disparate interests and work towards one, singular, unified goal -- that is, to ensure the success and longevity of the schools and libraries discount program and the telehealth discount program.

USAC is the administrator of the entire Universal Service Fund generated by FCC rules.

In addition, we have separate corporations that administer the classroom connection funds and the health care connection funds.

The Schools and Libraries Corporation and the Rural Health Care Corporation were created to be independent, non-profit corporations. They are charged with managing most all aspects of the administration of the Universal Service Fund with respect to schools, libraries and rural health care providers. They were devised to protect the autonomy of each corporation's directors and to allow them to push forward expeditiously with their work.

With respect to the day-to-day operation of these programs, I am confident that the administrative structure we've established will help attract highly qualified, appropriately reimbursed and competent management staff that will ensure accountable, cost-effective and efficient management of the significant resources at issue.

To this end, one of each corporations' most critical decisions will be the selection of CEO. This is probably one of the most important, if not the most important, decisions those corporations will make.

These corporations have unique and unprecedented roles. They will each need to hire competent, highly skilled and energetic CEO's, who will have to be paid commercially reasonable salaries and given practical budgets for doing their enormously difficult jobs. They have no simple task. The world of schools and the world of clinics will need new processes, new decisionmaking, new technological understanding to make the promise of communications pay off.

The schools corporations and the telemedecine corporation are key to success here.

Furthermore, we need desperately more private sector involvement in these efforts. I am practically begging for the invention of a nonprofit foundation that would help teach schools and clinics how to buy sophisticated communications equipment. This would be such a small investment for America's computer hardware and software businesses. And the pay off for kids and for the companies would be huge.

This nonprofit could, among other things, link the USAC program with the huge and marvelous charitable contributions of Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. Suppose Bill funds the computerization of all the libraries in Alabama. Who is going to match that program up with the funding of networks in those libraries that will occur under the Schools Corp? Ideally, there would be a nonprofit corporation, funded by America's hardware and software businesses.

Let's get as much of all this privatized as we possibly can do. Let's not build bureaucracies; let's build connections instead.

If we are successful in connecting America's kids, then we will cause a repurposing of education spending in a magnitude that dwarfs previous changes in the fields. Quite literally we will create a new market for about 15 million computers -- they may be laptops or NC's or PCs. I have some guesses, but no desire to mandate the winner in these computer wars.

But this much is clear: The business prospect here is as bright as the education opportunity.

And I haven't said anything about the huge new education software business this program will create. The good news never stops coming.

Did I mention also that my team the Baltimore Orioles is clinching the pennant and Cal Ripken's back is mending? This is the best of times and this is the best of times.

Thank you.