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Federal Communications Commission
U.S Conference of Mayors
Reno, Nevada
June 21, 1998

Thank you Mayor Campbell for that very kind introduction and for your leadership on telecommunications issues.

It's a great honor to be here with you today.

From Silicon Alley to Silicon Valley, from Boston to Austin, cities are where the action is in telecommunications.

Telecommunications is 14% of our national economy and growing fast -- it's the fastest growing sector of our economy. Communications tools are redefining industry and our economy. And increasingly, access to communications technology is defining who gets ahead and who gets left behind.

We all know that what you earn is based upon what your learn, and that an educated workforce is the most important resource any city can have.

Mayors know more about educating kids and creating jobs than any leaders in the country. We need your knowledge, your passion, your authority, as we set telecommunications policy for the 21st century.

That's why it's so important that we at the federal level continue to work with mayors and other civic leaders. At the FCC in the last few years, we have been fortunate to have some very dynamic members of this organization who have helped forge a good relationship between the FCC and cities. In particular, I'd like to acknowledge Victor Ashe, of Knoxville, who wisely urged the FCC to establish an Advisory Committee comprised of state and local elected officials. Which we did.

And I thank the mayors who serve on that Committee, Mike Guido, of Dearborn, Michigan, and, of course, Bill Campbell of Atlanta, for their time and dedication to the work of the Committee. I have learned a lot from you and from Kevin McCarty, your Washington representative.

Why do we need to work together? Because, make no mistake about it, telecommunications policy is about jobs and education for your cities.

Let's talk about jobs. By the year 2006, the United States will need 1.3 million new workers in Information Technology core occupations of the Information Technology sector. Well over 100,000 a year.

We must have an educational system that produces skilled workers to meet that demand. You know, when I meet with the CEOs who run high tech businesses, telecommunications policy is not the top issue on their agenda. It's education. They know that America cannot remain the leader in hardware and software design if our schools don't produce workers to fuel the growth of that sector.

I am sure you hear the same things from them.

So what are we going to do about it?

First of all. We should recognize that some of America's kids are doing well when it comes to technology. In fact, better than their parents.

I saw a survey a few weeks ago that made that clear. It compared top corporate execs with sixth grade kids.

The results are interesting. The survey asked. . .

What's a modem?

93% of sixth graders knew -- but only 23% of the execs.

Who owns the Internet?

98% of kids knew the right answer: no one.

68% of execs said a corporation -- 23% said it was Microsoft.

These stats are amusing. But they don't tell the whole story. Too many of our kids are still technologically illiterate; they are simply not prepared to compete in a global information age economy.

In telecommunications, we call the gap between the information haves and have nots, the "digital divide."

It is the divide between affluent and poor, minority and non-minority, between suburbs and cities.

One of your own, William Hudnut, when he was Mayor of Indianapolis, said, "The story every mayor tells is a tale of two cities -- the haves and have nots."

How do we avoid creating cities of information haves and have nots?

The answer is access. Access to the communications tools that are key to participating in the information economy.

At the beginning of this century, access to modern telecommunications technology meant a phone in every town. As we reach the end of the century, access means making sure our classrooms and communities have the communications tools to prepare them for the future. Communications unlocks opportunities. Educational opportunities. Entrepreneurial opportunities. And the opportunity to build a better community.

For too many Americans these opportunities are in danger.

Only 27% of America's classrooms are connected to the Internet.

Only 14% of classrooms in low income and minority school districts are connected.

The percentage of white children with home computers is triple the percentage of black and Latino kids.

Why is this important? Because teaching with technology and technological literacy is no longer a luxury. It is fundamental. Studies by the Department of Education show that students who have access to technology learn 30% better than students who do not. And students in classes that use computers not only outperform their peers on standardized tests but show more enthusiasm for communicating and learning.

Increasingly, kids who go to school in classrooms connected to the Internet will become the adults who have all the opportunities of the Information Age available to them.

We have a way to make this happen. It's called universal service, and for schools and libraries it's known as the e-rate.

In the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress extended traditional universal service discounts on communications services like the Internet to all public and private schools, classrooms and libraries. The e-rate makes the communications tools all schools and libraries need affordable.

But the e-rate is under attack. Some in Congress are preparing next week to pass legislation that will kill or suspend it.

Some say we cannot afford to provide discounts on internal connections to classrooms -- that the e-rate should cover only connections to the schoolhouse door.

But let's understand what this really means. Of the estimated $2 billion requested for e-rate funding by 30,000 applicants representing 100,000 schools around the country, about two-thirds -- $1.3 billion -- is for the connections from the front of the school to the classrooms. Within that funding for internal connections, more than half would go toward connecting classrooms in the country's poorest areas, many of them in your cites. Almost $750 million is just for connecting the classrooms in public and private schools where 50% to 100% of the kids are poor enough to be eligible for the federal school lunch program.

Some of you probably know how poor you have to be to qualify for a school lunch. For a family of three, say a single parent with two kids, it's a family that makes less than $17,600 per year. That's less than $338 dollars per week.

So who are the big losers if we don't support internal connections to the classrooms -- poor kids in our most distressed inner city and rural areas. Ironically, if we were to provide universal service support only for telecommunications services, but not for the networks to connect the classrooms within the school, we would end up giving universal service support to more well-to-do areas that already have connections, while denying support to our poorest schools and libraries.

Ten days ago, we at the FCC made some hard choices. Some powerful members of Congress wanted us to suspend or kill the e-rate. We didn't do that. But, we responded by slowing the implementation schedule. And we reset the priorities so the poorest schools will be first in line. We will be able to fund telecommunications services for all schools who applied for it. But I decided that we would have to take the money we have left and support funding for inside wiring for only schools in the poor urban and rural areas.

But some in Congress still want to kill or suspend this initiative. Sound familiar? You've been through these fights before. You need to be in this one, too. So let me bring you up to date.

Some in Congress say we must end this initiative to keep phone rates from going up. But long distance phone rates will continue to fall.

Some in Congress say we must end the e-rate initiative because they question the legality of the corporation that administers it. Well, not only is it legal, but we are making it even more efficient.

Some in Congress say we should discontinue schools and libraries support because administrative salaries were not capped. Now they are capped.

Some in Congress say we should not support getting networks to the classroom, but the word "classroom" is right there in the law.

So at the FCC we took all of these issues off the table -- issues which, in my view, are motivated more by politics than policy. This debate should not be about politics -- it should be about whether we as a country are prepared to bring technology to all our nation's children. It should be about whether we, as a nation, can afford to ensure that all our nation's children have the tools to compete in the Information Age.

Well, I say that we can't afford not to make this investment, because if we don't, the information haves would become the have-mores and the have-nots will remain the have-nones.

If you agree with me, then you must be a part of this debate. Because fundamentally, this is a debate about whether the school children in your cities will have the educational tools they need to fuel the economic growth of your cities. It's as simple as that.

The fact is, if we don't prepare our young people to compete in an information age economy, jobs will leave our shores. Our global competitors know this. They are making the investments that we need to make to bring technology to the schools. Canada is doing it. France is doing it. Germany is doing it. In Australia, the government of Victoria contributed $850 million so schools could connect to the Internet.

Can't we do as well for America's children?

We owe it to our kids to ensure that none are left behind; that none miss out on the technological benefits that will enrich their lives.

I know the power of education to change lives. It is very personal for me.

My grandfather, James Kennard, was a brilliant man. He wrote beautiful prose, quoting the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. For the most part, he was self taught. And all his life he worked as a railroad porter and janitor. He could have done more, but the barrier of race denied him better opportunities.

He moved his family to California where there was no legal segregation. But in his town there was a school for whites and a school for blacks.

The black school was miles away from his house. The white school was a few blocks away. And so when his son -- my father -- was about five years old, James Kennard dressed the boy up and sent him off to the neighborhood school.

They sent my dad home. "You go to the Negro school," the principal said.

The next day, my grandfather dressed my dad up again -- and sent him to the white school. They sent dad home again.

"This is where you belong," my grandfather said. He took my dad back again. And finally, that principal got so worn down he said, "Okay. We'll take the Kennard boy."

My grandfather made a difference. And the education my father received resulted in education and opportunities for me.

By the time this story was passed down to me and my siblings by our parents, it had become family legend. And the moral of the story went something like this: the lesson your grandfather taught your father is that if you know you are right, keep on fighting and you will succeed. Success may not come right away, and it may not be easy, but don't give up.

Well, we can't give up on the fight to bring technology to all of our nation's children. We are at a crossroads in this fight today. Now is the time to stand up and make a commitment to support funding for Internet access for all of our nation's children.

I know I can count on you.

Thank you for having me today.