On May 4, Federal Communications Chairman William Kennard expressed strong interest in a plan to require acceptable use policies for schools and libraries receiving eRate funds. Kennard was reacting to the release of a report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center claiming that parents are “deeply fearful about the internet’s influence on their children.”

In a speech at the Annenberg Center’s National Conference on the Internet and the Family in Washington, D.C., he noted that “helping parents use technology in the home is only one part of using it responsibly. We also have to look at how the internet is being used away from the home in our nation’s schools and libraries.”

Kennard said he supports a Commerce Department plan to require schools and libraries applying for eRate discounts to adopt policies for shielding children from inappropriate material on the internet and will seek public comment on the plan soon.

In an April 8 letter to the FCC, Larry Irving, chief of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), urged the agency to require such policies from schools and libraries in exchange for receiving the eRate. The policies should be part of a school’s technology plan, which is already required of eRate applicants, Irving said.

“To me, this idea makes a lot of sense,” Kennard said at the Annenberg conference. “As schools around the country think about how they are going to use technology in the classroom, they should also think about how to use it responsibly. . . . I am eager to hear the thoughts of parents, teachers, principals, and librarians on this issue.”

The “acceptable use policy” requirement is the Clinton administration’s alternative to legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and in the House by Rep. Bob Franks, R-N.J., that would require schools and libraries receiving eRate funds to install filtering software on all computers used by minors.

The bills would not mandate a particular filtering solution and would leave it up to local school boards and library directors to decide what to filter. But detractors of the legislation say it would handcuff local officials who are opposed to filtering solutions and could cost schools and libraries thousands of dollars in added expenses.

Acceptable use policies would “offer reasonable assurances to parents that safeguards will be in place in the school and library setting” while allowing local officials to set their own policies regarding internet use, Irving’s letter said.

The Annenberg report, titled “The Internet and the Family: The View from Parents, the View from the Press,” states that, “The rush to connect the web to American homes is happening despite parents’ substantial insecurities about it. Most parents with online connections at home are deeply fearful about the web’s influence on their children. For example, over 75 percent of these parents are concerned that their children might give out personal information and view sexually explicit images on the internet.”

The report can be read online in PDF format at: http://appcpenn.org/appc/reports/rep27.pdf