The E-Rate in America: A Tale of Four Cities

February 1, 2000

The E-Rate-the federal program that offers schools and libraries a subsidized educational rate for telecommunications services-lies at the heart of the continuing struggle to create communications and education systems that fulfill our democratic creed. This sweeping innovation, which ensures students access to telecommunications services through schools and libraries, represents an enormous stride toward realizing the dream of universal access to the basic prerequisites of democracy.

The Benton Foundation and the Education Development Center/Center for Children and Technology collaborated to produce this report on the E-Rate. Designed for school administrators, policymakers and others concerned about communications and education, the report first traces the ideas and the political forces that led to establishment of the E-Rate. It then looks at the practical issues confronting school districts as they seek to seize the opportunities the E-Rate affords. After examining how four school districts have used the program, the report provides a toolkit that school officials can use to organize, conceptualize and communicate information about the impact of this important program on their districts. Finally, it suggests resources for learning more about this important issue.

Our findings suggest that the E-Rate is working: it has led to dramatic improvements in network infrastructure and Internet access at schools. But while installing hardware and wiring is a necessary step toward ensuring that all students benefit from the new learning opportunities of the information age, it is not sufficient to guarantee success in this endeavor.To sustain public support for this ambitious undertaking, we must set goals carefully, and we must document progress toward achieving them. Moreover, we must provide sustained and creative training opportunities for teachers so that they learn how to use these new tools effectively.

In short, it is no time to rest on our laurels. Much hard work lies ahead. But what better way could there be to advance our democratic principles than to bring the opportunities of the Information Age into our schools? As James Madison said, 'Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people.'


Jorge Schement
Anthony Wilhelm
Allen Gilbert
Katherine Culp
Chris Conte
Andy Carvin
Margaret Honey