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FCC Issues Final Rules on E-rate Filtering Requirements

The Federal Communications Commission April 5 released its final regulations for implementing the E-rate portion of the Children's Internet Protection Act.

The Federal Communications Commission April 5 released its final regulations for implementing the E-rate portion of the Children's Internet Protection Act.

The rules will first apply to schools and libraries that receive support for Internet access and internal connections in the fourth funding year, which starts July 1, 2001. Schools and libraries that receive support only for telecommunications services are not subject to the law, which was passed by Congress last December.

Under the law, and the regulations now put in place by the FCC, schools and libraries must certify by Oct. 28, 2001 that they are in compliance with the law. The certification will be added to the Form 486, which applicants file when their services have been delivered and they are ready to receive support. The FCC said that even though the certification does not have to be filed until October, schools and libraries will be required to be in compliance with the law at the time they begin receiving discounted services, which could be as early as July 1, 2001. However, in the program's first year, schools and libraries will be permitted to certify that they are merely "undertaking such actions" to put in place "an Internet safety policy and technology protection measures," rather than having to have those things in place already.

The FCC adopted the suggestion of commenters, including Funds For Learning, who argued that the Form 486 was the appropriate place to make any required certification, rather than the Form 471, as had been proposed for future years.

In the rules, the FCC provided no further guidance on how a "technology protection measure" should be defined. It also said that it was prohibited by the language of the law from extending universal service discounts to technology protection measures or other costs associated with the law's implementation.

It put the adoption of an Internet safety policy on the same time schedule as the adoption of technology protection measures. In addition, it specified that if schools and libraries, "after reasonable public notice and at least one public hearing," had already adopted an Internet safety policy that complied with the law, they would not be required to adopt a new one. Such policies, usually known as Acceptable Use Policies, must address a number of issues, including hacking, the unauthorized disclosure of personal information regarding minors and the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail.

However, it said that because the law made no distinction between school and library computers that are used only by adult staff, and those used by children or the public, it had to impose the requirement on all Internet-accessible computers used by the schools and libraries. The FCC also left it to local communities to determine how to implement the law's provision that permits technology protection measures to be disabled for adults for bona fide research or other lawful uses.

Passage of the law will result in the creation of yet another new FCC Form, the Form 479. Consortium members who are subject to the law will be required to submit this form to the billed entity that leads the consortium. The FCC also stipulated that if a consortium member is found not to be in compliance with the law, it would not jeopardize the funding commitment of the rest of the consortium.

Entities that are found not to be in compliance with the law would be required to reimburse the Universal Service Fund for discounts that were received during the period they were not in compliance with the law. Unlike other E-rate disbursements, the FCC would permit schools and libraries to reimburse the USF directly in these instances, rather than requiring service providers to collect the money as the government's agent.

It is expected that the SLD will provide additional guidance on their implementation in the weeks ahead.

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