Alaska asks for E-Rate exception

Alaska is asking the Federal Communications Commission to waive a rule so

that several rural communities can access Internet service via schools or

libraries funded through the federal E-Rate program.

The program, which subsidizes the cost of telecommunications services

and Internet access by as much as 90 percent, has helped connect schools

and libraries in the state's urban, high-cost and rural areas, Lt. Gov.

Fran Ulmer said.

But there are small, remote villages where residents don't have local

dial-up Internet access and cannot afford the high long-distance or toll

charges, she said.

The E-Rate program, part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and administered

by the FCC, prohibits residents from tapping into the lower-cost, higher-bandwidth

telecommunications line that runs through their community's school or library.

Students cannot even use the Internet from home to do homework or research.

"So it's created this digital divide within the village," Ulmer said.

Alaska filed a 31-page petition Jan. 29 requesting the FCC to waive a section

of its rules that states, "The services requested will be used solely for

educational purposes."

Under Alaska's proposal, only communities without toll-free or local

dial-up Internet access would be eligible to "dial in to a modem connected

to the local school or library and use the telecommunications service provided

to the school or library for Internet access."

No E-Rate funds would be used to support equipment and other services

to connect residents, the petition said. Also, the community would have

Internet access when schools and libraries were closed, typically from 5

p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and on weekends and holidays. State officials

said their plan would not drive up E-Rate costs.

Ulmer said the situation in Alaska is unique because the population

is dispersed throughout the state, and the only way to get to some of the

small communities is by plane or marine transportation.

John Katz, Alaska's director of state/federal relations and special

counsel to the governor, said it would be unlikely that Internet service

companies would provide access to such remote areas.

He said he expected the FCC to review the petition and establish a period

of public comment.

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