Internet filter bill endangers E-Rate
- By George A. Chidi Jr., IDG News Service
- Oct 18, 2000
Two Republican legislators have urged Congress to vote in favor of cutting
off Internet access subsidies for schools and libraries that don't block
children's access to online pornography.
The Children's Internet Protection Act (H.R. 4577) would cut funding
to noncompliant elementary and secondary schools that benefit from E-Rate,
a 1996 measure providing a subsidy that covers part of the cost of Internet
To comply, schools would have to install filtering or blocking software
on their computers to cut off access to obscene material and child pornography.
They would also have to enforce a policy to ensure the blocking software
is being used while minors are using the computers.
The cost for school systems to filter Internet access for students could
compare to the cost for Internet access itself, offsetting the federal benefits
from E-Rate, according to Charles Campbell, technology liaison for the school
district of Worcester, Mass.
Worcester's schools have about 6,000 computers online, at a cost of
about $15,000 to the district. Without the E-Rate subsidy, that cost would
be about $50,000, Campbell estimated.
Administrative policy decisions predating the current proposed legislation
led Worcester to install filters on school computers. Worcester uses CyberPatrol
from Microsystems Software Inc. to prevent students from accessing inappropriate
material, at a cost of $7,000 to $10,000 a year, Campbell said.
"You don't get any funding for [filtering]. We're lucky we have a wide-area
network here, so that allows us to cut down our filtering costs," he said.
"If you're going to mandate the thing, fine, but make it [covered under
The proposed bill also applies to libraries, adding a further requirement
to block "any other material that the library determines to be inappropriate
for minors." In order to comply with the law, libraries and schools would
have to install, at their own cost, filtering software like CyberPatrol
or CyberSitter from Solid Oak Systems Inc.
"We're on pins and needles right now," said Claudette Tennant, assistant
director in the office of government relations for the American Library
Association. "One of the biggest problems for us is that it just tramples
over any local control.... Education has always been a local concern."
The measure is an addition to the major appropriations bill for the
departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education. Sen. John
McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed the amendment to the bill, which passed the Senate
95-3. A competing measure from Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) would allow schools
and libraries to develop an Internet use policy in lieu of installing blocking
technology. The Santorum measure passed 75-24. A conference committee must
work out the measures' differences.