Welcome to the FCC's E-Rate and informal education page. Technology has great power to enhance education. The FCC is working to bring every school and library in America into the information age. Join the dialogue to help spread the benefits of technology to schools and libraries nationwide.
The Schools and Libraries Universal Service support mechanism was established as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with the express purpose of providing affordable access to telecommunications services for all eligible schools and libraries, particularly those in rural and economically disadvantaged areas.
Archived List of FCC documents - released prior to transfer of Universal Service Program administration to the Universal Service Administrative Company's Schools and Libraries Division. See the Schools and Libraries Division Web Site for the latest documents and information.
Early History of the Universal Service Proceeding
On February 8, 1996 President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This law represents the first comprehensive revision of the USA's communications laws in more than 60 years. The universal service section of this law, Section 254, will help schools and libraries obtain access to state of the art services and technologies at discounted rates. The FCC, through its decision-making-process, shapes the policy that will bring about this increase in access to technology. An up-to-date list of links to universal service related Commission documents is maintained on the FCC's Universal Service Home Page. Additional information is also available in the FCC document Frequently Asked Questions on Universal Service and the Snowe-Rockefeller Amendment.
The "universal service" system was originally designed to make local telephone service available to all Americans at reasonable rates. In many cases, universal service policies have required that rates for certain telecommunications services be set above the cost of providing those services to generate a subsidy that could be used to reduce the rates for local service provided to residential customers. Many other federal and state programs are presently used to ensure universal service.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 calls for a revision of the universal service system. The revision must expand boththe base of companies that contribute to offset communications service rates and the category of customers who benefit from discounts. Schools, libraries, and health care providers as well as residential and rural customers will be the primary universal service beneficiaries.
The new law requires that the FCC and the states base the revision of the universal service system on seven principles,including the principle that elementary and secondary schools, libraries, and health care providers should have access to advanced telecommunications services.
The Snowe-Rockefeller-Exon-Kerrey Amendment
In addition to the seven broad principles, a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that was sponsored by Senators Olympia Snowe, Jay Rockefeller, James Exon, and Bob Kerrey, directly addresses schools' and libraries' access to communications services. This provision specifies that, upon request, individual telecommunications carriers must provide service to schools and libraries at "affordable" rates. The amount of the associated discount is to be reimbursed by the newly established universal service system that is required by the 1996 Act.
FCC Timeline on Universal Service
The FCC has issued numerous documents pertaining to the universal service proceeding. A complete list of links to these documents are maintained on the FCC's Universal Service Home Page.
On March 8, 1996 the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. [ News Release | Text Version | WordPerfect Version ]. Comments on this proposal were received April 12, 1996, reply comments on May 7, 1996. In addition, two Public Notices were released. The first, dated July 3, 1996, asked 72 questions [Text Version | WordPerfect Version ]. The second, dated July 10, 1996, sought comment regarding proxy cost models [Text Version | WordPerfect Version ]. Responses were due August 2nd and 9th, respectively. These documents asked questions such as what types of communications services should be made available to schools at discounted rates, and how to determine an appropriate level of discount.
The public responses to the FCC's questions on universal service were reviewed by a Joint Board composed of federal and state communications commissioners and a utility consumer advocate. This board was formed, as required by the Act, to issue recommendations to the FCC concerning universal service policy generally, including those aspects related to education. The Joint Board issued its Recommendations on November 7, 1996. On November 18, 1996 the FCC issued an additional Public Notice containing questions related to the Board's recommendations. Comments were received by December 16, 1996, and reply comments by January 10, 1997.
On May 8, 1997 the Commission released the major Report and Order implementing the Telecom Act's Universal Service Provisions [ News Release | Order ]. An up-to-date list of links to universal service related Commission documents that have been released since this order was released is maintained on the FCC's Universal Service Home Page.
Other FCC Information
Other FCC information about making technology and telecommunications available to schools and libraries.
The NII/SUPERNet proceeding may make it easier for schools to connect to the Internet without wires an especially good option for asbestos-laden schools.
On May 6, 1996 the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking [ Text Version | WordPerfect Version | PDF Version ] in response to petitions filed by Apple Computer, Inc. and WINForum, that seeks comment on making spectrum available for use by new unlicensed equipment called NII/SUPERNet devices. The proposal is relevant to schools since these devices could help link classrooms to the Internet by wireless means, thus providing schools an alternative to installing wires in classrooms. In response to the NPRM, 52 comments and 26 reply comments were filed. On January 9, 1997 the Commission released an Order amending FCC rules to make 300 megahertz of spectrum available for use by this new category of unlicensed equipment, now called Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure ("U-NII") devices.
Other Documents on this proceeding are provided by the Office of Engineering & Technology.
Congress has asked the FCC to check that schools are receiving the advanced communications tools they need.
Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to conduct regular inquiries to see that advanced telecommunications are in fact becoming accessible. If the FCC finds that they are not, it must accelerate the deployment of advanced services by removing barriers to investment and promoting competition. The FCC is required to use its regulatory tools to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications to all Americans, including, in particular, elementary and secondary schools and classrooms.
In other words, the FCC must act to ensure that cutting edge telecommunications technology is available in schools -- and classrooms in those schools -- around the country on an ongoing basis. See the FCC's Section 706 Advanced Services Inquiry web page for more information.
Links to Other Education Sites
The following related resources at other internet sites may be useful. Please note: these sites have no connection to the FCC. The presence of these links does not represent an endorsement by the FCC of the referenced sites or their content.
- Universal Service Administrative Company
- This organization provides information for schools and libraries that seek to participate in universal service fund programs, including online forms and instructions on how to apply.
- On-line Seminar: Universal Service/Network Democracy
- An on-line seminar on the provisions of the Telecommunications Act relating to Universal Service for schools and libraries. The seminar is run by the non-profit group Information Renaissance.
- The U.S. Department of Education
- This page gives updates on legislation and information on activities related to education.
- Consortium for School Networking
- This non-profit group gives updates on policy discussions related to bringing technology to schools.
- The Jason Project
- The Jason Foundation for Education runs annual educational trips for children to destinations such as the Galapagos Islands, Mayan ruins, and shipwrecks. Schools can participate in the trips on-line through discussion and through research led by scientists.
- The National Science Foundation Directorate for Education and Human Resources
- Finds descriptions of NSF-funded projects in education and technology. The "Global Schoolhouse Project" focuses on K-12 education.
- Old Colorado City Communications National Science Foundation Wireless Field Test Project
- Publically available hub for reporting plans and test results related to the NSF Wireless Field Test forEducation project.
- International Society for Technology in Education
- A nonprofit professional organization dedicated to the improvement of education through computer-based technology.
- American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy
- The ALA, the oldest and largest library association in the world, has been heavily involved in shaping Universal Service policy.