Schools and Libraries Corporation Supporters Fight Back

(June 8, 1998)  The supporters of the beleagured Schools and Libraries Corporation met Friday in Washington to organize their campaign to preserve the "e-rate" program in its current form.  Congressional supporters also held a press conference to announce that they would take their case to the public.

Education and library groups which stand to receive the subsidies met with Congressional supporters and Education Department representatives, including Secretary Richard Riley, in the office of Sen. Jay Rockefeller Friday morning.

Present were a number of legislators: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

"We had a number of education groups, practically all of them," said Riley.   The groups supporting the "e-rate" which were represented included the following:

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American Library Assoc.
American Education Assoc.
American Fed. of Teachers
National Education Assoc.
National Parent Teacher Assoc.
National School Boards Assoc.
U.S. Catholic Conference
U.S. Department of Education
Civil Rights Forum
Simon Strategies

The following groups are also supporters of the "e-rate", and may have been prepresented at the meeting: American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Independent Schools, and National Catholic Educational Association.

Many of the education and library groups are asking their members and supporters to contact the FCC, their Congressmen, and the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees.  (The later group wrote a letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard Thursday that was highly critical of the way the FCC has organized the program.)  One group is even asking its members to complain to Time Magazine, which recently used the term "Gore Tax" in an article.

"We talked about what we can do collectively to make sure this program goes forward," said Michelle Richards or NSBA.  "We discussed making sure that Members of Congress (heard from our members) over the next few days."  NSBA is also asking members to "communicate with the FCC and ask them to go forward on time and with the resources that are needed."  Richards added that, "We have launched a massive grass roots effort."

After the meeting, Rockefeller, Snowe, Riley, Rush, and Blumenauer held a press conference.  Their statements were repleat with sound bite sized appeals for the children -- "we are fighting for our lives for the future of the children of American" --  and phone company bashing -- "What we have is a classic fight between the huge telecommunication companies in this country, their ability to lobby, their ability to pay money, their ability to intimidate, their ability to have things their ways, which they have always gotten in the past, versus something called the school children of America."  (Sen. Rockefeller, transcript at 000.)

Civil Rights

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), who respresents the south side of Chicago, said that this is a civil rights issue.

"This battle we are engaging in right now is the civil rights battle of the nineteen nineties and of the future.  There are millions of youngsters who are struggling right now to become a part of American society, struggling to become productive in the American society, who are fighting without any of the technological advantages that are available to others.  These individuals will soon be road kill on the information superhighway because they won't have access to the kind of technology, access to computers, access to the Internet.  They won't be productive members of society.  If in fact this e-rate is diminished, or if this e-rate effort, if it's derailed, then we are really creating two different societies."  (Transcript, at 061.)

Rep. Rush sits on the House Commerce Committee, and its Telecommunications Subcommittee, which have jurisdiction over the FCC.

Secretary of Education Riley also picked up on this issue:

"The Presidential spoke this morning at MIT.  And in that speech he talked about the digital divide.  He is very concerned about that -- that the fault line of the future is really those who have education and those who don't.  That is, who is going to be able to reach their dreams, and who is not.  Technology is absolutely a clear part of that education.  This e-rate is as important as anything in education that has come along in the last twenty years."  (Transcript, at 088.)


"Investigations of certain staff members on the FCC have been threatened.  Or are being carried out."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller
(Transcript at 260.)

Rockefeller and Snowe also repeatedly stressed that the "e-rate" is being derailed by a few Congressmen and Senators who are intimidating and threatening the FCC staff.

The FCC is "being so battered by the telephone companies and so battered and intimidated and threatened by a few Congressmen and Senators that.  They have never run into this kind of hardball before," said Rockefeller.   (Transcript at 137.)

Members of the press repeatedly asked Rockefeller to identity who was doing the intimidation, and what were the acts of intimidation.  Rockefeller would not identify any specfics, but told the press that "I was hoping that you would pick up on that," and "that is what you guys are really good at."   He repeated the challenge twice more.  (See, Transcript at 255.)

Tech Law Journal made over a dozen phone calls to the FCC to inquire about intimidation.  Many calls went unreturned (which is not unusual for the FCC), several people declined comment, and several wisecracked at the question.

"I mean, this is a political town.  Harry Truman said, 'If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.'  Well, the kitchen has been getting pretty hot."

Jim Casserly, Senior Advisor to FCC Commissioner Ness

Jim Casserly, Senior Advisor to Commissioner Susan Ness, addressed Rockefeller's accusations.  Casserly explained that the FCC had received contacts from the Congress.  "The Commission is subject to the oversight of Congress, and it is entitled to ask us questions."

"It has asked us a goodly number of questions to date," said Casserly.   "They have addressed letters to us." Casserly continued that "I am not going to embrace the characterization as intimidation.  I am not going to dispute it either.  I do not think that it is productive.  ... We are subject to oversight."

"What is really at stake is our committment to meeting the letter and spirit of the law.  ...  We have some hard issues to address in that area. ... There are some very fundamental differences in views."

Casserly concluded that "our focus is on those substantive issues, and not those distractions."

Related Page: Schools and Libraries Corporation Summary Page.