Capital Roundup

E-Rate Fund Hike<@VM>No Cloture on Y2K<@VM>SAFE Act Catches Flack<@VM>ABCs of Copyrights

By David Silverberg

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to increase funding for Internet access for schools, libraries and rural health care providers to $2.25 billion from the previous level of $2.02 billion.

The Universal Service Support Mechanism, or E-Rate, is a program established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 under which long-distance companies continued service to high-cost rural schools, libraries and health care facilities in exchange for concessions on access fees and deregulation benefits.

The $2.25 billion is at a cap set in 1997 and still falls short of demand, which the FCC estimates at $2.43 billion. Critics of the E-Rate called the increase a disguised tax which would be passed along to consumers.

For a second time, the Senate has failed to muster enough votes to end debate and vote on S-96, a Y2K liability limit bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. An earlier attempt in April met a similar fate.

This time the bill was a compromise measure authored by McCain and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

The House passed its Y2K liability bill, HR 775, early in May. McCain's bill may be reconsidered when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess.

HR 850, the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act, introduced by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., came in for some strong criticism when officials of the Commerce Department, the National Security Agency and the Justice Department testified before the House International Relations subcommittee on international economic policy and trade.

William Reinsch, undersecretary of Commerce for export administration, said the bill "proposes export liberalization far beyond what the administration can entertain."

Barbara McNamara, NSA's deputy director, warned its passage would make NSA's intelligence gathering "difficult, if not impossible," putting the nation at risk.

Ronald Lee, associate deputy attorney general, said it would upset the balance between civil rights and law enforcement "and is contrary to our national interests."

The bill continues to make its way through the committee process.

Some recalibration of policy is in order to allow schools to use online materials and satisfy copyright owners, concluded Marybeth Peters, register of copyrights, in presenting a Copyright Office report to Congress.

Teachers and educational institutions have been looking for a change in copyright law to enable them to use freely copyrighted material for distance learning. Copyright holders like publishers, record and movie producers wanted the law to remain unchanged. Congress had the Copyright Office study the issue.

Ultimately, the Copyright Office's solution was to make minor changes, hold off on new legislation and allow markets to evolve subject to future review.

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