The Honorable William E. Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
1919 M Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Dear Chairman Kennard:
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Clinton Administration in
response to questions raised in the Report to Congress, dated May 8, 1998,
regarding universal service support mechanisms. The National Telecommunications
and Information Administration serves as the President's principal adviser
on telecommunications and information policy.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 created a unique opportunity in our
nation's history to lower prices, improve consumer choice in telecommunication
services, and extend the benefits of the Information Age to all of our
nation's children. As you know, the implementation phase of the Act is
at a critical stage. The current focus on the E-rate program, as well as
carriers' plans to recover the program's costs, needs to be put in context.
The Commission's actions thus far have created a sound platform that
will enable America's children -- our nation's most precious resource --
to become better educated. Just as the promise of literacy did not occur
with the printing press, but with public schools and libraries, the promise
of the Information Age cannot be truly achieved for students until schools
and libraries can access the rich public domain of the Internet.
Vital public support for assuring fair access to telecommunications
is a long-standing governmental policy. We believe that the cost to the
industry for support of schools and libraries has been balanced by reductions
in access charges. The Commission should endeavor to fund the program with
no additional costs or pass through to the customers. In any event, the
cost to telecommunications carriers to fund discounts to schools, libraries,
and rural health care centers at the current demand levels is no more than
$1 per line per month, and therefore, under no circumstances, should consumers
be charged any more.
We believe that the Commission should ensure that carriers give consumers
the information they need to understand that in the last 11 months, lower
long distance bills in the form of access charge reductions have equaled
$2.4 billion; that long distance bills are the lowest that they have been
in history; and that the charges currently appearing on long distance bills
were not mandated by the Commission or the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Rather these new charges on phone bills were calculated by the carriers
to recover what they say are "new costs." We believe that efforts by the
Congress to enact "truth-in-billing" legislation are an important and valuable
contribution toward providing consumers with this information.
We also fully support Commission's direction to the current schools
and libraries corporation to scrutinize applications to ensure that they
meet the strict guidelines for funding. Only supported services should
be discounted. Both applicants and providers must be held to the highest
standards in adhering to the application and bidding process.
In the same vein, it is extremely important that schools and libraries using these technologies be highly sensitive to the needs of parents to safeguard their children from any harm that could result from unsupervised use of the Internet. We believe that education community understands the need to keep public confidence in school programs, and as such, they are already engaged in setting guidelines and researching or employing technology solutions to meet community concerns. Locally derived plans to ensure appropriate use of this technology will reflect the best of America's traditional values by working with families and communities to ensure this result.
Thus, applicants should certify that they have local plans in place.
As you have stated, Mr. Chairman, we must proceed with the rollout of
the schools and libraries program, a crucial aspect of universal service.
We believe that the American people, through their elected representatives
in Congress, understood that by ensuring that our schools and libraries
have affordable access to important telecommunication technologies, we
would be ensuring our nation's future. All of our children, in every school
in our nation, must have access to the tools of our time. No school or
child must be excluded from the benefits of the information age because
of income or geographical area.
We urge the Commission to address the issues we have identified so that
the schools and libraries program will be an even more successful contributor
to the nation's goal of universal service.
cc: Honorable Susan Ness
Honorable Harold W. Furchtgott-Roth
Honorable Michael K. Powell
Honorable Gloria Tristani