Universal Service/Network Democracy
Week Three (September 9 - September 15)
In the third week of the Universal Service/Network Democracy on-line
seminar, we will go over the following topics:
If you have not yet read the page on
Preliminaries to the Universal
Service/Network Democracy on-line seminar, please read it now.
The Preliminaries page contains information on the following items:
The seminar continued in the rapid pace set in its first week.
There were 62 postings from 37 different people, half of whom
had not posted in the previous week. These people were divided
among the various participant groups as follows:
- Schools and Libraries: 13 people, 26 messages
- Non-profit Organizations: 8 people, 12 messages
- Universities: 7 people, 11 messages
- State and federal government: 3 people, 3 messages
- Business: 6 people, 10 messages
Thanks to Laurie Maak for continuing to develop these statistics. I
want to repeat my thanks to everyone who has helped to keep the
discussion going on the complex issues with which we have been
dealing. In the upcoming weeks I hope that an increasing percentage of
the registered audience will add their voices to the discussion.
The principal topic for the second week's discussion had to do
with the scope of Universal Service subsidies for
schools and libraries. Several major points emerged. I'll list
them in the same framework that I employed last week, adding
new topics as appropriate:
- Resale. While there exist interesting examples in which
school districts have developed self-sufficient networking operations
financed by the resale of services, this is probably not a viable
option for the majority of school districts.
- Training. Training or professional development
are major concerns for the successful implementation of new
telecommunications services for schools and libraries. Since
these activities are typically carried out within a school district
or library and are not services traditionally supplied by
providers of telecommunications services, these are not plausible
candidates for Universal Service support. Nonetheless it is
clearly important that Universal Service subsidies for schools
and libraries should be structured so as to encourage and facilitate
the necessary component of training and professional development.
- Technical Support. This issue is similar to professional
development in that it is not on the traditional menu of services offered
by telecommunications providers. Unfortunately, it is also not an
area that the majority of school districts and libraries are well-equipped
to handle on their own. We probably need further discussion within
the seminar on how best to approach this question.
- Equity. This remains a major concern of seminar participants,
having been cited in about 20% of the recent messages on-line. Approaches
to consider include subsidies targeted for rural areas and subsidies targeted
for low-income areas.
- Educational Basis. Many of the participating teachers and
librarians continued to emphasize the educational goals of a widespread
deployment of telecommunications technology. Several suggested that
Universal Service subsidies should cover the evaluation of programs
which employ this technology. This is another topic which deserves
further discussion, even though it would appear at first glance to
be far-removed from traditional telecommunications services.
- Scalability. Several participants emphasized the importance
of building a basic infrastructure which can easily expand to serve
the needs of all students, teachers and library patrons. The Internet
provides a good example of how effective a scalable architecture can be.
- Community Networks. There is a strong sense in the group
that Universal Service should mean access to network services from
wherever people may be at whatever time they might be interested in
accessing these services. For students and teachers, this means
access from sites outside the schools, whether they be community
centers, homes or other locations. For library patrons it means
having multiple access points and facilities available around the
The assignments for the second week were a continuation of those
in the first week, namely to participate in the on-line discussion
and to provide materials for the library of on-line resources.
Many seminar participants have been working on these assignments,
and you can see their results in the
on-line discussions and the
Several developments have taken place in the last few days which
will serve to enhance the content of the seminar and its
On Friday we were able to announce that the University of Pittsburgh
will be able to offer college credit for seminar participants
who carry out all weekly assignments and apply for credit to the
University. Please send a message to
if you are interested in this option. The University has agreed
to waive student fees and to provide course credit at their in-state
tuition rate. This credit is of course nationally recognized and
should satisfy any local requirements for incremental or
A second development which will be available starting this week
is the facility to conduct
on-line surveys as part of the seminar.
We have been trying to think of ways to expand the base of active
participation. While I have been encouraging everyone who has
registered to post messages at least once a week, we might all
have trouble with the resulting message volume if everyone took
this to heart.
What we'll do with the on-line surveys is to take an issue which
has been discussed in the seminar and open it up to general
evaluation through a form which all seminar participants can access
through their Web browsers. The format will be similar to that
of the registration form which you used to join the seminar, so
it's safe to assume that everyone will be able to use it. Through
this mechanism we hope to bring participation in some of the
discussion topics up to the point where everyone will be taking
part, if not at level of weekly postings, at least at the level
of weekly expressions of opinion. The
first on-line survey will
deal with issues relating to the scope of Universal
Service subsidies and will be announced on Monday, September 9.
Last week's list had four major topics:
- Scope. What services should be covered by the Universal Service
- Aggregation. How can schools and libraries share services
with each other and with other community groups
to maximize efficiency and effectiveness?
- Allocation. Who gets the subsidies and under what conditions?
- Integration. How will new discounts fit in with existing
I would like to mention two other issues, which we can either weave
into discussions of the topics listed above or break out as separate
- Other Proceedings. The present seminar is focussed upon
Section 254 of the Telecommunications Act. Other sections of the
Act are also of importance for schools and libraries, and in some
cases there are separate proceedings under way for these other topics.
Some mention has already been made of the proceeding which deals with
wireless technologies. I would like to summarize these other
proceedings and try to indicate their relevance for schools and
- Competition. An important principle underlying the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 is the idea of enhanced competition.
We need to consider how Universal Service subsidies can be
structured so as to enhance the competitive environment. Many
examples exist which show how such an environment can benefit
schools and libraries, but it is not a given that true competition
will arise without planning and forethought.
This week's major topic will be the question of how the Universal
Service subsidies for schools and libraries should be distributed.
Here are a few of the issues which commenters in the current
FCC proceedings have raised on this subject:
- Should there be cash grants or vouchers available directly to
schools or school districts?
- Should there be an "E-rate" (educational rate) defining
special discounts for schools and libraries?
- Should school districts have to complete state-approved
technology plans in order to qualify for Universal Service subsidies?
- How should one define a bona fide request for telecommunications
services? What minimal justifications should a school, library or
school district have to offer in support of such a request?
- Should Universal Service subsidies extend to groups which provide
educational materials or support for educational organizations, such as
universities and colleges or community centers?
This week's assignments are a logical continuation of last week's
- Continue to develop summaries of the Comments, Reply Comments
and Further Comments in the
On-line Repository. Send your summaries
so they can be linked into the Web site as part of the
- Post to the on-line discussion group on this week's topic - the
allocation of Universal Service subsidies.
- Complete the
on-line survey on the scope of Universal
Return to Universal Service/Network
Return to Information Renaissance home