Internet filter bill endangers E-Rate

H.R. 4577

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

access.

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

E-Rate]."

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.

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