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Senator Jay Rockefeller’s Lasting Legacy

Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) has long been a champion and ardent supporter of the E-rate program. The education community will lose a longtime ally when he retires in 2014 and the expansion of the Universal Service Program to include schools and libraries in the mid 1990’s would not have occurred without Senator Rockefeller’s unyielding leadership. In fact, these are Senator Rockefeller’s own words during a Senate floor debate in June 1995:

    “‚ĶI had dinner with the President of a computer company last night–with six of them, in fact. He said within a very few years any citizen of the world will be able to talk with any other citizen of the world directly, through e-mail or some such, based upon the name of the person, the service that the person provides, be it a business or a location. There will be worldwide direct person-to-person communication in as fast a time and with as much clarity as you pick up your local telephone to dial your mother-in-law. All we are doing in our provision is to say, in return for this explosion of excitement and opportunity and profits, which create, indeed, more opportunity for all of that growth, for all of those profits that you will now be able to get your hands on, make sure that you bring libraries, schools, and hospitals along with you. That is called a fair deal‚Ķ..The provision in this bill‚Ķdesignates these vital institutions–again, schools, libraries, rural health facilities, and hospitals–as community users and then requires communications companies to charge this category of community user affordable rates for universal service. Through this part of the bill, we guarantee that America’s children and library users and health care providers in rural communities can take advantage of the exciting range of technologies that are in fact the new roads, the new interstates, to education and lifesaving medical information‚Ķ.We hear a lot about the explosion of computers in America’s homes. But let us keep in mind that a lot of families cannot afford their own computers and equipment for their children‚Ķ.They cannot afford that. This Senator can. Some other Senators here can. Most people cannot. We are talking, Mr. President, about thousands of dollars that many, many families in my State of West Virginia and elsewhere simply do not have for this kind of purchase. The Presiding Officer may be aware that in 1994, for the first time, the purchase of personal computers surpassed the sale of television sets in this country. The Presiding Officer may be aware that those who are on Internet are now 30 million, and that that number is growing at 10 percent per month, but it is not growing in Welch, WV. It is not growing in Alderson, WV, and it is not growing in the Presiding Officer’s rural areas and some of his urban areas because the people do not have the capacity to get on line to join up with that information highway‚Ķ.” ” [June 8, 1995; Congressional Record; page S7979]

Fast forward to Funding Year 2012 which is 17 years after Senator Rockefeller made these statements and the E-rate now serves over 52 million students. It is unfortunate that over the years the E-rate has been attacked by some in Congress, but Sen. Rockefeller has consistently defended this critical program that has helped hundreds of millions of students to have access to the technologies where they can not only survive, but thrive in the 21st Century. In his home state of West Virginia nearly $47 million was requested by schools and libraries this past year as compared to $10.5 million when the program first began in 1998. It is very exciting to see how schools and libraries are now using the E-rate dollars. Many schools are using increased bandwidth and building the infrastructure to help with One-to-One Computing and Bring Your Own Device Initiatives, real time assessments and video conferencing to help supplement classroom learning.

Sen. Rockefeller, simply put, thank you for your vision and your dedication to seeing the E-rate program through and because of your efforts the E-rate program is a stable and predictable funding stream that not only the students in West Virginia can rely on, but students all across the country as well.

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