E-Rate Doesn't Leave Consumers Irate

E-Rate Doesn't Leave Consumers Irate<@VM>Techtoons

Steve LeSueur

By Steve LeSueur, Editor

It used to be called the "Gore Tax."

The E-rate program, short for Education Rate, was established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the Federal Communications Commission to wire schools and libraries for the Internet at significantly discounted rates. The FCC carried out this charge through a tax on long-distance telecommunications companies administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co.

The additional tax on our phone bills might have gone unnoticed ? does anyone really understand the phone bill? ? except that the phone companies ignored government directives and itemized the new tax on customers' bills.

Outraged consumers spurred equal outrage among lawmakers from both parties, who charged that the FCC had overstepped its bounds. Some introduced legislation to overturn the program. Republicans were especially vocal as they sought to link the tax to Vice President Al Gore, a leading proponent of the program.

"Taxes like these make me long even more for that magical day in the very near future when the sun will finally set on the Clinton-Gore era," House Majority Leader Dick Armey said in May 1999.

Despite the opposition, the program stood. And today more than $3.6 billion in E-rate funding has been distributed, 1 million classrooms have been wired, and much of the grumbling has quieted.

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery writes about the program in her front page story. She talked to some of the industry players who are helping to wire schools and looked into the positions of presidential candidates George Bush and Al Gore.

While there is still some debate about how to fund and manage the program, you don't hear many people calling it the Gore Tax anymore.


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