Year three of eRate will fall well short of demand

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set funding for year three of the eRate at $2.25 billion, the maximum allowed under the program’s rules. But with demand for discounts at an all-time high, most schools are likely to receive only a fraction of the total funding they’ve requested.

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC)—the federal agency that administers the eRate—estimates that only schools qualifying for discounts of 81 percent or higher will receive help with their internal connections this year—the wiring, routers, switches, and servers needed to deliver internet access to classrooms.

More than 36,000 schools and libraries applied for year-three eRate funding, which gives discounts of up to 90 percent on telecommunication services. SLD estimates the total requested by these applicants is $4.72 billion, an amount greater than the program’s first two years combined.

“More schools than ever are connecting to the internet and increasingly the [telecommunications] services have upped the cost of connectivity. That’s one reason why requests are so high,” said Linda Roberts, White House adviser on education technology.

“I think people have found that their districts and towns have applied and met success, so now they know that this program can work for them,” said Mel Blackwell, SLD representative. “It’s such a good program for schools. And the eRate, unlike other programs, is ubiquitous and in every state.”

But not everyone sees the greater demand for eRate dollars as an indication of the program’s success.

“Schools will continue to have an ongoing need for funding to maintain these broadband connections year after year,” said Greg Weisiger, associate director of teleproduction services for the Virginia Department of Education. In other words, Weisiger said, the more schools receive funding, the more they come to rely on the eRate every year.

Weisiger also questioned how money left over from the program’s first year has been used. “The collections [from telecommunications companies, which fund the eRate] for year one were $1.9 billion, and schools and libraries received $1.6 billion,” he said.

About $448 million has been earmarked to reduce contributions from telecommunications carriers this year, Weisiger said. Much of this money is leftover funding and should not go back to the companies that donated it in the first place, he said, given that demand for the eRate exceeds the available funding this year.

“There is a conflict in FCC regulations that allows this type of thing to happen,” Weisiger said. “First, they say no more than $2.25 billion may be committed in any given year. But then they say that any extra will carry over. It’s contradictory.”

According to SLD, all eligible schools that successfully filed applications before the year three filing window closed Jan. 19 will get discounts on so-called “Priority One” services, namely telecommunications services and internet access.

But the agency estimates that only applicants qualifying for discounts of 81 percent or higher will get funding for “Priority Two” services, which are internal connections. Schools qualify for discounts on a sliding scale based on the percentage of their students who qualify for the federal lunch program. To qualify for this year’s 81 percent cut-off, applicants must have at least half their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Explained Blackwell, “The way it works is this: Everyone sends in applications, and all those who fall within the 70-day [filing] window receive their Priority One funding, period.”

The next in line to receive eRate discounts are those who apply for Priority Two funding within the allotted application time.

But only schools with the greatest number of poor students will qualify for those dollars this year. “Basically, we started with our Priority One requests and just kept subtracting from the total funding for the year. Then, we started subtracting for each Priority Two request. And we ran out of money at 81 percent,” Blackwell said.

In the program’s first year, funding for internal connections stretched to the 70-percent discount level. Last year, the agency was able to fund all applicants’ requests.

Most observers seem to agree that telecommunications services and internet access should take precedence over internal connections. “The good thing is that once the internal wiring is installed, it’s done,” Roberts said. “It’s not a continuing cost.”

But some observers privately wonder whether another year of failed expectations on the part of applicants might be damaging to the program’s credibility. Schools and districts must invest several hours in the arduous process of applying, only to find out after the fact whether there will be enough money to fund their requests.

“I don’t think these restrictions will in any way put a damper on next year’s applications,” said Blackwell, who argued that the potential for schools not to receive the discounts they apply for is a facet of the program that cannot be helped.

“We have a public trust here and deal with a lot of money, and we have a responsibility to make sure that everyone who applies is eligible for what they apply for,” he said. “But almost 30,000 applicants received funding in year two, so something must be working.”

Federal Communications Commission

Schools and Libraries Division of USAC

Virginia Department of Education


NEA study: $54 billion needed to wire schools for technology

More than 20 million schoolchildren nationwide attend schools that are falling apart or ill-equipped for classroom computers, the nation’s largest teachers union says in a report calling on states to pony up their budget surpluses.

In its report, released May 3, the National Education Association (NEA) says states need $322 billion for school construction—roughly 10 times what they currently spend, and nearly three times what the federal government has estimated they need. The General Accounting Office, the research and investigative arm of Congress, has estimated that the nation’s schools need $112 billion for repair and update of older buildings.

Most of the school construction cost estimates cover bricks and mortar, but $54 billion is needed to help wire schools for the computer technology many policymakers have been keen on funding, the report said.

The average public school in America is 42 years old and 28 percent are more than 50 years old, NEA said. Fully 46 percent of the nation’s public schools lack the electrical and communications wiring necessary to support today’s computer systems.

President Clinton and congressional Democrats are pushing for increased federal funds for school repair and construction. But states bear most of the responsibility for such costs and they have been spending more than ever, NEA says.

“The crisis is eclipsing their efforts,” said Bob Chase, president of the union, which analyzed recent state finance data for the report. “We often fail to recognize that where our students learn can have a dramatic effect on what they learn.”

Individual states’ needs vary widely, the report said, because some states are more populated or have higher costs for land and building materials. New York tops the list for general school construction needs with $51 billion; Vermont, a much smaller state, needs about $333 million.

The need for wiring and infrastructure to support technology ranges from $10.9 billion in California to $103.5 million in Wyoming. Rounding out the top five states needing technology infrastructure along with California are Texas ($4.2 billion), New York ($3 billion), Florida ($2.2 billion), and Illinois ($2.1 billion).

Meanwhile, the report said, states had a $31 billion surplus in fiscal 1999. States such as Alaska, Indiana, and Delaware have the highest portion of budget surpluses, which, the NEA said, should be used to fund school construction projects.

The union’s estimates are based on 1998 and 1999 data that include school enrollments, age and condition of existing buildings, and construction costs, said spokesman Steve Wollmer.

The NEA’s report also urges the federal government to step up its efforts to provide funding for school improvement.

“We call on Congress to pass meaningful school modernization assistance, including interest subsidies and direct grants and loans that will help address these enormous needs,” Chase said.

On May 2, several Democrats in Congress—which is debating renewal of $20 billion in federal education aid to the states—said they want the federal government to spend at least $1.3 billion on school construction. But Republican leaders have resisted setting aside specific funds for school building, Democrats said.

“It’s a national disgrace,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “Many schools have a tax base too low to fix their schools. Republicans have pulled the rug out from under them.”

The two parties are sparring about whose policies ensure that school funds are well spent. Republicans say they want states and local districts to have more freedom to combine funds from grant programs to suit their needs. Democrats say they want to target the money to specific concerns.

The differences could hinder the Senate’s work on the education bill, with both sides threatening to attach a host of proposals to the already cumbersome piece of legislation.

But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Republican leaders do not plan to limit debate, and the parties agreed to offer two separate proposals each.

“Let’s not make this a piece of flypaper to attract every amendment floating around this chamber,” Lott said. “There is a center ground that must and should be found in America on education.”

“Modernizing Our Schools: What Will It Cost?”


Schools use creative ways to lure IT professionals

A new study suggests that companies hiring information technology (IT) employees will be short about 850,000 people this year alone. Educators fear the growing IT shortage means that school districts won’t stand a chance in competing with businesses for qualified IT professionals.

The study, called “Bridging the Gap: Information Technology Skills for a New Millennium” and commissioned by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), finds an enormous demand for IT workers among large businesses.

The study says employers will need to hire roughly 1.6 million IT workers this year, but only half those positions will be filled. These numbers do not count government, nonprofit, or small business IT jobs.

Considering the IT industry is already 10 million people strong, the study means one in 12 IT jobs will remain open. This ratio has widened compared with a 1998 survey that reported one in 10 jobs was unoccupied.

“Our employers have known anecdotally for some time that hiring IT professionals was difficult,” said ITAA spokesperson Tinabeth Burton. This is the third and most comprehensive study commissioned by ITAA to date.

The results of “Bridging the Gap” are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 700 IT managers from companies that make IT products and from companies that use IT products to facilitate their business operations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that IT jobs will continue to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the job market through 2006.

“It is very difficult to hire and retain IT workers,” Burton said. “It sounds basic, but the competition is fierce.”

Private companies frequently pay experienced IT professionals six-figure salaries in addition to benefits and time off. According to Information Week’s salary survey of nearly 17,000 IT professionals, the lowest average IT wage starts at $50,000.

Since districts have made huge investments in their schools’ technology, they now require full-time staff to support and maintain their infrastructures. But for districts operating on tight budgets, recruiting and retaining skilled people is a tough process.

Ray Jaksa, director of technology at Mansfield Independent School District in Texas, has experienced this problem first-hand.

“We cannot find qualified network people,” Jaksa said. “Even though we are offering 226 [work] days compared with 261, we can’t get people to come work for us. The most I can pay anyone in my department is $78,000—that’s more money than I make,” he said.

Reinventing the hiring process

To compete with the private sector for IT professionals, school districts must employ creative ways of recruiting and retaining high-tech workers, experts agree.

Lee Pasquarella, president of Cascade Consulting Group, a headhunting firm, advises school districts to reinvent their hiring practices when recruiting technology staff.

“School districts are not able to compete for IT professionals on the basis of salary,” Pasquarella said.

Because many IT jobs are filled with heavy deadlines and lots of stress, Pasquarella suggests school districts should emphasize nonmonetary benefits such as stability, quality of life, time off, flexible hours, slower-paced work environment (compared with the corporate world), good medical coverage, and more opportunities for professional growth.

“Not everyone is driven by money and those are the people you need to recruit,” Pasquarella said.

Fred Frelow, director of national affairs at the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, agrees that emphasizing the nobility of education is a good leveraging point for attracting IT workers.

“People who go into education don’t go into it for the money,” Frelow said. “If you work in a school where you help tens of thousands of kids, the benefits you make are different than when you make ‘x’ amount of dollars.”

Joe Kitchens, superintendent of Western Heights School District in Oklahoma, said his district hasn’t had many problems recruiting IT professionals—but he admits retaining them is difficult.

“If a company decides they want someone, it’s hard for us to compete,” Kitchens said. “We want someone who loves education.”

Pasquarella said schools should find other ways to attract IT workers besides high salaries. “School districts can be very competitive if they position themselves as places to get training,” he said.

The Blue Valley School District in Kansas pays its staff to become Microsoft-certified and then contractually obligates them to the district for two years.

“If we can keep someone for two or three years, they begin to see the benefits of working with our organization,” said Bob Moore, Blue Valley’s director of instructional technology.

Many school districts are starting to give their own students IT training, so they can work for the schools as a class credit or a part-time job.

The Mansfield school district is planning to teach Cisco networking skills to its high school students so they can do computer work for the district. But Jaksa acknowledged that this will create only temporary help.

“Once they’re certified, they’re not going to stay here,” Jaksa said.

In fact, he calls training the kiss of death.

“It’s a Catch-22. If you train them, they leave. If you don’t train them, they leave,” Jaksa said. “When they [corporate recruiters] find out we have a teacher teaching Cisco, how long is that person going to stay?”

Moore said the Blue Valley School District experienced a shortage of IT workers in the past, but after making improvements it’s been easier to recruit and retain them.

“We can’t compete dollar for dollar for IT staff, but we think you can get other things with us you can’t get elsewhere,” Moore said.

The district now offers flexibility, more vacation time, job-sharing, salary increases, training, teamwork, and decision-making.

“It has been over a year since anyone has left our organization,” Moore said.

Information Technology Association of America

Mansfield Independent School District

National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future

Western Heights School District

Blue Valley School District


Study: Two-thirds of teachers use technology in their lessons, but only a third feel ‘well prepared’

The amount of professional development a teacher has, a school’s wealth, and the grade level being taught all have an impact on how teachers use computers and the internet in the classroom, according to a study released April 24 by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The study, called “Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools,” surveyed full-time public school teachers in spring 1999.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said they use computers or the internet for instruction during class time, but only a third (33 percent) reported feeling at least “well prepared”—and only 10 percent said they feel “very well prepared”—to do so.

“Until all teachers have the … adequate training that their counterparts in business and other professions have, our nation’s students will be short-changed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Teachers with fewer years’ experience and those with more hours of professional development felt better prepared to use computers and the internet for classroom instruction than their colleagues. According to the study:

• Teachers with three or fewer years of experience were more likely to feel “well prepared” to use technology than teachers with 20 or more years of experience (31 percent vs. 19 percent).

• Teachers with more than 32 hours of professional development within the last three years were more likely to feel “very well prepared” to use technology than teachers with zero to 32 hours (29 percent vs. from six percent to 10 percent).

“As this survey shows, teachers who’ve received training in technology are most likely and more inclined to use it in the classroom,” Riley said. “This provides further support for the president’s request to double funding to help prepare tomorrow’s teachers to use technology to $150 million in 2001.”

“There is a tremendous difference between teachers who have more training and those who have minimal training,” said Linda Roberts, White House adviser on educational technology. “It takes time to learn how to use technology.”

Roberts said she was encouraged by the figures from this latest NCES study. A similar one released in January 1999 found that only 20 percent of teachers felt “well prepared” to use technology.

“There are school districts that are taking this need for [training] very seriously,” Roberts said. But more districts need to follow suit, by offering incentives and making more time for technology training, she said.

“The most important thing is professional development,” she said. “It has to be hands-on for it to be effective.”

Other findings

The study also found that a school’s poverty level affects a teacher’s use of computers and the internet.

At poorer schools, teachers were less likely to use computers for creating instructional materials, keeping records, and communicating with colleagues. They also had students do less research on the computer than did teachers from more affluent schools.

But teachers at poorer schools were more likely to use computers for practice drills than were teachers from more affluent schools.

The kind of assignments that computers are used for varies among teachers of different grade levels, too. The study found that elementary school teachers assign practice drills and problem-solving using computers more frequently than high school teachers. Secondary school teachers, on the other hand, are more likely to assign internet research than elementary teachers.

About a third of teachers surveyed said they use computers or the internet “a lot” for creating instructional materials and keeping administrative records. But less than 10 percent of teachers said they use the internet to access model lesson plans or best practices, suggesting that better dissemination of these resources is necessary.

The Department of Education said it plans to use this study to support decisions regarding technology in schools and teacher training. A more extensive discussion of the survey’s results will be available this summer, it said.

U.S. Department of Education

“Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools”


Education Department floats new national ed-tech plan

After more than four years of a “Four Pillar” approach to educational technology—hardware, software, connectivity, and training—the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is reexamining its focus and revising its national ed-tech plan.

ED expects to complete the revised plan by this fall. It will include new national goals for the effective use of technology in education, ED said. The shift comes in recognition of the progress that has been made since 1996—when President Clinton first announced the Four Pillars approach—and the challenges that remain.

“Our first goal was to build the infrastructure by getting computers into the classrooms,” said Carole Wacey, a senior policy adviser for ED. “And we have made progress in that direction. But we’re not discarding our original goals. We are just building on that infrastructure toward the people side and the content side.”

ED’s original technology plan, “Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge,” set the following goals for the nation’s schools:

• Hardware: Classrooms must be equipped with modern, multimedia computers to help kids learn.

• Connectivity: All classrooms must be wired for the internet.

• Software: Educators and students must be provided with effective, useful software and online learning resources.

• Teacher training: All teachers must have proper instruction in how to use technology in the classroom.

According to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 35 percent of public schools—and just 3 percent of instructional rooms—had internet access in 1994. By 1999, those figures had grown to 95 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

Similarly, access to computers in the classroom has nearly doubled during that time. According to a 1999 study by Market Data Retrieval, the ratio of students to computers had reached a national low of 5.7 to 1, down from 10.8 to 1 in 1993.

Yet, despite these advancements in infrastructure, some real problems remain. One problem is equity of access to technology. Though classroom connectivity increased from 3 percent in 1994 to 63 percent in 1999, only 39 percent of instructional rooms in schools with the highest poverty levels have internet access.

“Even though we’ve made tremendous progress, it is clear that access to technology is not ubiquitous,” said Linda Roberts, White House adviser on educational technology.

Access isn’t the only thing standing between students and technology, ED says. According to a recent NCES study (see page 8), only a third of the nation’s teachers feel prepared for, and comfortable with, integrating technology into their classroom activities. The results suggest that “there is a continuing priority for teacher support and staff development,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, critics of the department’s push to get computers and the internet into classrooms argue that there is little evidence to support the huge amount of money that districts are spending on educational technology—$6.7 billion in 1998-99, according to figures from Quality Education Data.

ED’s recommendations for new technology goals, which were released in April, aim to address these issues. The recommendations are based largely on discussions among a panel of 29 education and technology experts at a two-day meeting in December, called the Forum on Technology in Education: Envisioning the Future.

The recommendations are:

• All students and teachers will have ubiquitous access to state-of-the-art information technology in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

• All teachers will effectively use technology. This is a continuation of the teacher training pillar, with a few additional stipulations: (1) The need for training is ongoing and must be about not only how to use technology, but also how to support student learning; and (2) pre-service teacher education must be transformed to include training in the use of classroom technologies.

• All students will be technologically literate and responsible cybercitizens. In addition to being academically prepared, students will need to understand how to locate information, determine its relevance, integrate it with other sources, and act responsibly with computers, Roberts said.

• Research, development, and evaluation will shape the next generation of ed-tech applications. “As the use of technology in education becomes more commonplace, it becomes critical to understand what we are learning about what works and what doesn’t,” the forum concluded.

• Education will drive the eLearning economy. “We want schools, districts, and states—not businesses—to work with developers in order to have education drive the development of [distance learning and] new technology,” Wacey said.

Revising the 1996 National Educational Technology Plan


Bandwidth, copyright worries follow Napster into schools

Many school technology directors have yet to encounter the new music-capture software program known as Napster. But among those who have, according to an eSchool News straw poll, most are worried that Napster-using students could lead to network traffic jams and copyright infringement.

Napster allows users to log on to the internet and capture compressed music files, known as MP3s. The Napster software, created by 19-year-old college student Shawn Fanning, lets users search for and download these MP3 files directly from computer hard drives, rather than from a central database.

Several colleges have experienced major network traffic jams from students using Napster, and the music industry is furious about what it considers the illegal appropriation of its work.

“Online or off-line, a business model based on pirated music is simply not fair. No other service on the net has generated as many calls of outrage from artists, managers, and artists’ representatives,” said Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Heavy metal band Metallica has alleged that the University of Southern California, Yale University, and Indiana University (IU) allowed free trade of copyrighted songs to flourish by failing to block access to the Napster software program, thereby violating the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The San Francisco-based band filed a lawsuit against the universities in the U.S. District Court of Los Angeles on April 13. Metallica subsequently dropped Yale and IU from its lawsuit after the two universities agreed to block access to Napster on their computer networks.

Napster is embroiled in a lawsuit of its own. The company is being sued by the RIAA in federal court in San Francisco. The trade group, which represents major recording labels, alleges copyright infringement by Napster and is seeking $100,000 for each song traded using Napster software.

“No one is trying to stop technology—all the RIAA and its members are trying to do is to put a stop to a new high-tech type of theft,” the industry group said in a statement.

Napster has defended its right to provide MP3 files to its users.

Ruth Friedman, technology director for Beachwood City Schools in Ohio, believes that Napster’s users, not the program itself, are the ones committing the crime of copyright infringement. “Can you sue the VCR company because kids can rent a video and re-record it?” she said, though she added that her district does not sanction the use of Napster or similar programs.

Several universities have blocked access to Napster because its use by students to download audio files has slowed their networks to a crawl. Some educators worry there have not been enough precautions taken to prevent this from happening at the K-12 level as well.

In an informal poll taken on the eSchool News web site, 12 percent of educators said the use of Napster to download MP3 files was a “huge problem” in their schools. Twenty-seven percent said it was a “slight problem,” and 23 percent said it wasn’t a problem at all.

But fully 38 percent of respondents said they were unaware of Napster or its use.

Russell Smith, an education technology consultant for the Region 14 Education Services Center in Abilene, Texas, worries that K-12 network supervisors “lack sufficient skills to even recognize what is happening with bandwidth loss. They’ll learn sooner or later, but probably later.”

Friedman said programs like Napster don’t necessarily pose a threat to K-12 schools. “I don’t think this will be a huge problem. Although we are not censoring our students, we do have our antennas out. Even our eMail is supervised,” she said.

eSchool News ethics and law columnist David Splitt thinks the problems created by Napster are nothing new to schools.

“This is really no different than the problems that were posed by photocopiers,” he said. It’s “the opportunity to copy someone else’s stuff, just with different technology.”

Schools have many ways to protect themselves, he added: (1) Supervise the use of school computers, so that any student using the computers for downloading (or uploading) MP3 files would be noticed; (2) have a policy against copyright infringement (which is what the lawsuits must be based on) via computer, photocopying, and so on; and (3) use a filter or proxy server that won’t allow access to MP3 sites.

“Whether there are legal problems depends on how school administrators and teachers supervise the use of technology,” Splitt said.


Recording Industry Association of America


‘I Love You’ virus cripples school computer networks

School computer networks running Microsoft Outlook eMail systems were among the millions around the world affected May 4 by a new software virus known as the “love bug.”

The virus spread quickly around the world, swamping U.S. computer networks with eMails titled “ILOVEYOU,” after crippling computers in Asia and Europe.

“We had to shut down the eMail server for several hours this morning,” said Bob Moore, director of instructional technology for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, immediately after the outbreak. “Our virus protection software did not have [the virus] in its profile, but it has been updated now. I’m sure this has caused a lot of people a lot of problems.”

According to Nancy Messmer, director of library media and technology for Bellingham Public Schools in Washington, the virus crippled her district’s computers.

“We’re disabled, actually. It appeared on all our computers first thing this morning, and we are just so dependent on our eMail that it got us right away,” she said, speaking as news of the outbreak spread. “We called every school and told them to delete it, but it brought the whole system down anyway.”

The extent of the damage done depends on the degree to which eMail is integrated into the schools, Messmer said: “We don’t have many people who are unaffected. Our network security people will probably have to attack it server by server. I wonder about small districts that don’t have the resources to expunge this.”

Experts said they were stunned by the speed and wide reach of the virus.

“It appears to be the same sort of class of virus as Melissa,” the eMail virus that overwhelmed computer systems around the world about a year ago, said Bill Pollack, spokesman for the CERT Coordination Center in Pittsburgh, a government-chartered computer security team.

But the new virus, which used the Outlook eMail program from Microsoft to spread, also infected other types of files stored on desktop computers and network servers, CERT reported on its telephone hot line.

By midday eastern time on the first day of the outbreak, a virus scanning system provided on the internet by the computer security company Trend Micro already had detected more than 500,000 infected computer files around the world, including more than 350,000 in the United States.

In Britain, the virus brought down about 30 percent of company eMail systems, according to Network Associates, another computer security firm. In Sweden, the tally was 80 percent.

Even the U.S. Department of Education (ED) reported problems. The department’s web site was down most of the day May 4 while officials made sure no affected messages were sent through the site’s eMail system.

“We have 17 computers fully infected and 102 partially infected. We have 10,000 ILOVEYOU messages attempting to reach just people with the letters A or B starting their last names, and we estimate that we have 100,000 to 200,000 infected messages queued up on our system waiting to be delivered,” Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for ED, said on May 4.

“People from Microsoft have been working with us all day, putting up firewalls and trying to address the problem. We believe we have prevented most of the messages going through, but some have slipped by. It’s just a matter now of cleaning up, deleting the messages.”

Much like Melissa, the “love bug” spread by infiltrating a computer user’s address book and sending copies of itself to that person’s contacts. However, the new virus also used instant messaging or “internet chat” systems, such as ICQ, to spread.

Not all computer systems were affected by the virus. Only PCs running Microsoft Outlook were vulnerable; Macs were unaffected.

“We’ve had questions and comments all day, but we don’t use Microsoft Outlook, so it’s not a problem,” said Ruth Friedman, technology director for Beachwood City Schools in South Dakota. “We sent out an eMail warning people not to open any ILOVEYOU messages [and have had] no problems yet.”

Trevor Shaw, director of technology for St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in New Jersey, said he quickly did a survey of his technology staff and no one had reported receiving the virus.

“Fortunately, we are not using Outlook,” Shaw said. “One of the reasons we don’t use Outlook is because it’s pretty prone to malicious coding. It’s also one of the reasons we weren’t really affected by the Melissa virus.”

CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University


Gateway, others pledge $100 million to narrow digital divide

The Gateway Foundation, the nonprofit arm of computer maker Gateway Inc., has launched a grant program that will provide 75,000 teachers with online computer training during the next five years. The program was one of several initiatives aimed at closing the digital divide announced by President Clinton during his New Markets Initiative Tour to spur economic development in depressed areas.

Clinton spent two days traveling from the Palo Alto, Calif., heart of Silicon Valley to Chicago, site of the spring 2000 Comdex computer trade show. During the trip, Clinton won more than $100 million in pledges from the computer industry to bring high-tech benefits to places missing out on America’s prosperity.

“This is one of those fortunate times when by doing the thing that is morally right, we actually help to keep America’s economic expansion churning forward,” Clinton said.

The goal of the Gateway Foundation’s program—called Teach America!—is to give educators critical skills and proficiency to help them realize the full benefits of technology in learning. The total cost of the training to be funded by Gateway is estimated at $7.6 million.

Through the Teach America! program, grant recipients will have access to hundreds of web-based courses that enable educators to take classes and refresher courses at their convenience.

Teachers can learn how to navigate the web effectively to find supplemental materials, develop extranets for sharing information with parents and students, and use popular software applications.

The self-paced, online training courses were developed by Gateway in partnership with ZD University, an online division of Ziff-Davis Inc. The Teach America! grants cover the tuition cost of the courses. Although more than 100 courses are available, about 10 to 12 have been recommended specifically for teachers.

Lisa Emard, a Gateway spokeswoman, said the courses emphasize core competency skills—but Gateway is looking at developing more content in the future, including courses that emphasize classroom applications of technology, Emard said.

All schools with tax-exempt status are eligible to apply. Grants will be made on the basis of two main criteria: (1) a school’s perceived need for technology training, and (2) its plan for using the training to improve classroom needs.

A panel from the Gateway Foundation will select recipients on a quarterly basis, but applications will be accepted throughout the year.

Other initiatives

At a stop on a Navajo reservation in northwest New Mexico, Clinton announced a plan to provide basic telephone service to American Indians for $1 a month. The plan would be financed by raising universal service fees on telecommunications carriers by 0.4 percent.

American Indians rank far below the national average in their access to telephones, computers, and the internet, the president said. In the Navajo Nation, only 22.5 percent of households have home telephone service, compared with the national average of 94 percent.

Gene Sperling, head of the president’s National Economic Council, said long-distance users would pay about a penny a month more if carriers pass the charge on to consumers. “This is a very worthwhile investment,” he said.

Microsoft Corp. also pledged more than $2.7 million in cash and software to help bridge the disparity between Indian tribes and wealthier segments of society.

Bill Gates’ Seattle-based software giant announced it would give $2.5 million worth of software and $200,000 in cash to be divided among eight tribal colleges. Each school will get a cash share of $25,000, Microsoft representative Jenny Moede said.

Other corporate initiatives that were announced during the president’s trip:

• Novell Inc. will donate $20 million in software to nonprofit organizations that help Hispanic organizations.

• Hewlett-Packard will invest $15 million in a new “digital village” initiative in three underserved communities, including East Palo Alto.

• Qualcomm will commit $25 million to bridge the digital divide in San Diego, where it is based.

Gateway’s Teach America! program

Microsoft Corp.

Novell Inc.

Hewlett-Packard Co.

Qualcomm Inc.


Web sites face new privacy restrictions for children online

Several web sites have had to revamp the way they do business with youngsters as they comply with a new federal privacy law aimed at protecting children online.

Under the law, which took effect April 21, sites that attract children under 13 must get parental permission before collecting personal information from those kids and must disclose how they use the data.

But some sites are finding it easier to stop asking questions or restrict minors from the sites altogether.

“Some businesses are responding out of panic and fear,” said Dennis Lee, training director at IFsec, a N.Y. security firm. “They don’t want to get caught doing the wrong thing.”

A few sites, he said, even joked about moving offshore—”their way of expressing frustration that government is regulating another aspect of the internet.”

The new Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is meant to protect eMail addresses, school locations, and other data that could expose kids to marketers and molesters. One site that federal regulators found egregious used to ask kids about their allowance and parents’ income to enter a contest, for example.

Sites attracting children under 13 must now obtain parents’ approval. Consent by eMail is often OK, but verification by fax, mail, or a toll-free number is required when companies share data with marketers or post it on their sites. An adult’s credit card number is also acceptable.

“This is the most vulnerable age group,” said Kathryn Montgomery, president and cofounder of the Center for Media Education in Washington. “Kids under the age of 13 are generally not as wary or skeptical or careful.”

The law is expected to impact hundreds of popular internet sites aimed at children, which typically offer online games and entertainment in exchange for personal information valuable to marketers.

Hewlett-Packard removed its “18 and under” option from a web site questionnaire., aimed at children aged six to 12, contacted all parents to renew consent and developed ways to close inactive accounts.

America Online plans to stop letting children use a membership directory to disclose hobbies and other personal details about themselves. The majority of parents already block that feature, said AOL representative Andrew Weinstein. Fewer than 100,000 families will be affected, he said., which targets eight-to-14-year-olds, already spends $100,000 a year getting parental consent. To comply with the new law, the company has made sure eMail addresses were not accidentally kept without permission, said Ali Pohn, FreeZone managing director. The company also rewrote disclosure notices sent to parents.

Disney Online set up ways to run credit cards without posting charges.

The law should help reputable sites thrive and eliminate ones that exploit kids, said Ken Goldstein, Disney senior vice president.

“This makes it very difficult for less reputable operations to go after that low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Andrew Shen, a policy analyst with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, called the law a “serious first step” but identified a basic loophole: If sites don’t ask how old users are, then they could ignore the law.

“It’s not going to catch all kids online or prevent all information about kids from getting to where it shouldn’t be,” he said.

Plus, the law cannot prevent a kid from stealing a parent’s credit card to “verify” consent.

“Kids know more about this stuff than we do. So, sure, there are ways around it,” said Mozelle Thompson, a member of the Federal Trade Commission. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t put a few speed bumps in.”

Federal Trade Commission’s privacy initiatives

Center for Media Education

Electronic Privacy Information Center


Oracle Corp. chairman unveils $199 internet device for schools

Oracle Corp. chairman Larry Ellison is banking that he didn’t have the wrong product five years ago—only the wrong market. This time, he’s targeting your schools.

Ellison unveiled a $199 internet machine on May 8 targeted at the education and consumer markets. The presentation was made before an audience of students at a performing arts high school in Dallas.

Calling it “this amazing $199 computer,” Ellison said the device “is going to allow us to put a computer on every child’s desk” by 2005.

Five years ago, Oracle and Sun Microsystems Inc. joined forces to create so-called network computers for business customers. The machines were a commercial bust.

Greg Blatnik, an analyst with Zona Research, said the earlier $500 computer was designed mostly to break the grip of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system on corporate America’s desktops.

The new machine, he said, might be better targeted.

“We’ve got many examples of internet appliances that are at least finding some niche in the market, sometimes a substantial niche,” Blatnik said. “Schools need products that are pretty solid and failure-proof … These types of devices fit into that market really well.”

Unlike a personal computer, the device lacks a hard drive. Instead, users who connect it to the internet will be able to check eMail and surf the web.

Ellison said Oracle, the giant database software company based in Redwood City, Calif., will donate 1,150 of the machines to 23 Dallas schools.

The machine is being marketed by The New Internet Computer Co., an eight-employee firm based in San Francisco. Ellison, who owns about one-fourth of Oracle, is the primary owner of the privately held company.

The computer, named the NIC (New Internet Computer), is being made by a subcontractor in Taiwan, said Gina Smith, a former newspaper and television reporter tapped by Ellison to be the new firm’s chief executive.

The machine runs on a Linux operating system, has a 266-megahertz microprocessor, 64 megabytes of memory, a 56K modem, and 24-times CD-ROM drive. Monitors are not included, although Oracle’s philanthropic arm will give away monitors to schools, Smith said.

Schools would still have to obtain internet access elsewhere, either through paid or free internet service providers, though most schools already have networks through which students can connect to the internet.

Cheap internet devices have tried and failed before, and the NIC will face competition from machines such as the i-opener from Netpliance Inc., which currently costs $99, though users have to commit to a $21.95 monthly internet access fee.

Stephen Baker, an analyst at PC Data in Reston, Va., questioned whether the NIC will do any more for Ellison’s considerable wealth than the earlier network computer.

“Chances are, at $199, the profit potential is kind of limited. The way you make money is add-on fees,” such as for internet access, Baker said. The NIC, however, is not going to get involved in providing internet access, officials said.

“We’re making money at $199, but it’s a narrow margin,” Smith said. “The way you make up for that is in volume. We’re going to sell a gazillion of these.”

The question remains whether schools will buy them.

“When you look at education today, you’re getting more and more applications on the internet. This is a perfect vehicle for getting to those applications,” said Ruben Bohuchot, chief technology officer for the Dallas Independent School District.

“Do you need a hard drive to store data? No, there’s a server somewhere that can do it for you,” Bohuchot said. “What does it matter if [those data sit] in my office at home or somewhere else?”

The NIC devices aren’t intended for data-intensive applications such as video editing. But for simple word processing and internet access, Bohuchot thinks they might be ideal for schools.

“There’s a lot of people who want to have access to the internet, and this is an affordable way to do this,” he said.

Oracle Corp.

Oracle’s academic initiative

Dallas Independent School District