Education Department Waits in the Wings to Run the E-Rate

(June 8, 1998)  The Department of Education might soon administer a reformed federal program for subsidizing school and library computer networking and connections to the Internet.   The program, known as the "e-rate," is now administered by the Federal Communications Commission and its Schools and Libraries Corporation.  However, the FCC has incurred the wrath of many members of Congress for the manner in which it has constituted the program.

Related Stories

SLC in Trouble on Hill, 6/8/98.
SLC Supporters Fight Back, 6/8/98.
Clinton Condemns "Digital Divide", 6/8/98.
Debate Over "Gore Tax" Heats Up, 6/5/98.
AT&T's Universal Service Charges, 5/28/98.
FCC Reports to Congress on SLC, 5/11/98.
Congress Decries FCC, 3/31/98.
GAO Reports SLC Is Illegal, 3/31/98.

One proposal for reforming the "e-rate" calls for giving the Education Department control over the program.  Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), Chairman of the key House Telecommunications Subcommittee, proposed that the Department take over.   Also, instead of allowing the FCC to raise the money from telephone users, Tauzin's program would be funded from the already existing Federal Excise Tax on phone use.

"Billy went to the leadership yesterday and offered a compromise," Billy Tauzin's staff assistant Ken Johnson said Friday.  The program "would be administered by the Department of Education" and be funded by "the federal excise tax on phone service."  "He suggested we repeal one half of that tax and use the other one half of the tax to fund a schools and libraries program," said Johnson.  The tax currently it raises $4.5 Billion per year.  The FCC plans to spend $2.25 Billion on its schools and libraries program in 1998.

Many Congressmen would prefer having an executive department run the program because, unlike the Schools and Libraries Corporation, it would be financed by the federal budget, and be subject to Congressional oversight.

Presently, the Education Department has no role in administering the schools and libraries subsidy program.  However, the Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, is getting involved.

On Friday, when Congressmen, Senators, and education and library group representatives supporting the FCC run "e-rate" gathered to plot strategy, Secretary Riley was present.   And with him were at least two Department of Education staffers, including Carol Wacey, the Department's "e-rate" expert.

Related Page: Schools and Libraries Corporation Summary Page.