The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
newspaper ran a story on March 17th, "School Internet Aid at Risk" in which
Congressman Tom Tancredo (R - Littleton) has introduced legislation to kill the $2.25
Billion Universal Service Fund 'e-rate' subsidy for schools and libraries connectivity to
the Internet. School District 11 got $1.8 million this year. Tancredo said it is an
example of 'rash Federal spending.'
Well, I agree with him -- but for entirely
First off that fund was originally designed
to subsidize rural, 'high cost' and poorest school districts and libraries, such as those
in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, where a T-1 Internet line between Alamosa, the closest
Internet connection, and the tiny town of San Luis costs over $1,700 a month, while the
same capability -- because of shorter distances -- costs as little as $200 a month in
Colorado Springs. So the first question is -- do the big urban Denver and Colorado Springs
school districts need such a subsidy, while can the 14 tiny districts in the poorest
counties of Colorado remain connected at such high costs without the subsidy? There are
places that e-rate is needed.
But the second point even more questions the
Congressional oversight, and FCC administration of the program and funds. Tancredo could
fix those problems, without throwing out the baby schools with the e-rate bath.
There is list of eligible costs that e-rate
funds can pay for. A new list was issued yesterday. The telephone companies made sure, by
lobbying, it could only be used to pay for commercial 'services' outside the schools. i.e.
the money flows back to the telephone company. NOT eligible, is the right of the schools
to purchase and install, on a one-time basis, either microwave systems or digital radio
systems which will do the same thing US West lines will do to connect schools and
libraries, but cost nothing each month, for service, thereafter.
This is not idle talk. I spent the last three
years demonstrating, as an Investigator for the National Science Foundation how schools
and libraries could use off the shelf advanced communications technologies, rural and
urban, at the lowest long term cost to taxpayers or rate payers. In fact I connected up
two large District 11 schools, Coronado and Mitchell, and one branch library of the Pikes
Peak Library District to test the radios and prove their worth. The $1.8 million received
by District 11 would have bought an even newer $3,500 radio, installed, for every one of
its 55 schools, which would link them 7 times faster than US West's T-1 lines could do it.
At Ethernet speeds. And just, or even more, reliably than telephone lines. With no monthly
costs, e-rate or no e-rate.
Its only going to get better, and cheaper. To
the point all students and teachers from home could be connected to their school's
resources, at no monthly cost.
One large local district -- District 20 -- 3
years before e-rate came along, connected up its 25 separate schools this way, including
Microwave, out of their own budget. And are saving over $2.3 million ($12,000 a month)
over a US West bid solution over the first 10 years.
But when the FCC made the stupid rules under
pressure from the phone companies, and Congress did not override them, no local schools or
the library district with its 10 branches could apply for the e-rate to make such one time
expenditures, and get Internet connected between schools, and to the nearst Internet
service, forever, high speed and free.
So they went for the Washington 'free lunch'
instead. And they must ask for an e-rate grant every year for the connection between their
schools and the Internet until the end of time.
So where does that Universal Service Fund
money, collected on your phone bill every month go? Why right back into US West's pockets.
Where else did you think it went? That's what's really 'rash' about the e-rate. And
neither Congress, nor Representative Tancredo have done anything to correct such a rash
set of rules by the FCC, which only benefits US West's stockholders by selling schools a
service they don't need from telephone companies, when they should be able to buy radios
from any of 70 American companies which are being used daily by corporations, government,
and the US military.