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Congress Members Propose Major Changes

The chairmen of the House and Senate communications subcommittees July 23 introduced legislation that, if approved, would transform the current shape of the E-rate program.

The bill, the "Schools and Libraries Internet Access Act," would remove from the program from the Universal Service Fund and support it through the federal telephone excise tax. The tax would be reduced from a 3 percent levy to 1 percent, which the meausure's sponsors said would generate $1.7 billion for the E-rate and telemedicine programs in fiscal 1999.

The program would distribute block grants to states rather than supporting individual applications. Fifty percent of the money would be allocated based on the relative number of children between the ages of 5 and 17, and the remaining 50 percent, based on the previous year's funding levels under Part A of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Finally, the bill would transfer control of the program from the Federal Communications Commission to the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. It was unclear how fast such a measure would be able to move through Congress; however, Tauzin was joined at his announcement by two members of the House Ways and Means Committee, from which congressional tax legislation originates.

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