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May 27, 1999

Separate Statement of
Commissioner Gloria Tristani

Re: Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service; Twelfth Order on Reconsideration. CC Docket No. 96-45.

I strongly support the Commission's decision today setting the collection level for the schools and libraries support mechanism (the "e-rate") at the $2.25 billion cap. I support fully funding the e-rate because it is a sound investment in the future of our children and our country. By funding Internet connections to classrooms, we bring the enormous educational resources of the Internet directly to teachers and students.

Although 89 percent of public schools have some Internet access today, only 51 percent of our nation's classrooms are connected to the Internet. Only 39 percent of high- poverty classrooms are connected, compared to 62 percent of classrooms in wealthier schools. The e-rate is especially critical for ensuring that minority and low income children – those who are less likely to have access to computers and the Internet at home – are able to participate in the telecommunications revolution. It will help ensure that this country's troubling digital divide does not become an unbridgeable chasm.

Moreover, the e-rate is sound competition policy for the United States. Today, technology companies in the United States cannot fill jobs because young people in the workforce lack the necessary skills. If companies do not fill those jobs with American workers, they will fill them with foreign workers. Any significant export of high technology jobs to other countries far outweighs the cost of the Schools and Libraries Program. Thus, we can make the relatively small investment now, or we can pay in countless ways later. I am committed to seeing this vital program move forward and to seeing all our students reap the benefits.