COMMERCE URGES FCC TO REQUIRE SCHOOLS TO
ADOPT USER POLICY TO SAFEGUARD CHILDREN USING THE INTERNET
The Commerce Department urged the Federal Communications Commission to require public schools and libraries applying for federal funds to secure discounted connections to the Internet to certify that they have instituted policies that provide parents with reasonable assurances that children using the Internet will be safeguarded from exposure to inappropriate content.
In a letter to the FCC, Larry Irving, assistant commerce secretary of Telecommunications and Information said: "The administration cares deeply about keeping children safe while they engage in online learning and discovery."
Irving said that the federal government should not require that schools and libraries adopt any particular type of technology such as filtering or blocking, but rather adopt "user policies" that offer parents reasonable assurances that safeguards will be in place that permit them to have educational experiences consistent with their values when using the Internet.
The FCC can help the schools promote the policy by requiring the institutions receiving federal E-rate funds to certify to the user policy before such funds are awarded to them. E-rate funds, a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, provide reduced rates for telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections for elementary and secondary schools and public libraries.
Schools and libraries have received $1.66 billion for internal wiring and discounted connections and nearly 36,500 more have filed applications for the E-rate funds. In his letter, Assistant Secretary Irving notes that ensuring that these schools and libraries implement acceptable use policies would be an important improvement in the program and provide a critical protection for children using online resources.
"As increasing numbers of children have access to the Internet from their schools and neighborhood libraries, we need to address the issue of how best to ensure that these children have positive, age-appropriate, educational online experiences," said Assistant Secretary Irving.
Currently, schools and libraries are using a wide range of technology tools and monitoring techniques to ensure that children do not encounter inappropriate material and dangerous situations while online. These schools and libraries are determining what will work best in their particular school and community. In his letter, Irving underscores the Administration's position that, absent proof that local decision making is not working to protect our children, the Federal Government should not mandate a particular type of technology, such as filtering or blocking software.
Rather, Irving said, "the Federal government should encourage acceptable use policies by all public institutions that offer access to online resources, including the Internet. An acceptable use policy should, while being sensitive to local needs and concerns, offer reasonable assurances to parents that safeguards will be in place in the school and library setting that permit users to be empowered to have educational experiences consistent with their values."
"The Clinton Administration has long advocated a user-empowerment approach to the issue of children's access to online material, which was carefully articulated in the Administration's 1997 A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce," said Irving.
For media inquiries, please call Mary Hanley, NTIA Public Affairs, at 202-482-7002, or visit NTIA's home page at http://www.ntia.doc.gov. NTIA serves as the principal adviser to the Executive Branch on domestic and international telecommunications and information issues.