New telephone surcharges that took effect July 1 will supply the necessary funds to keep Maine’s libraries and schools connected to the internet. The program is similar to the federal eRate program but on a statewide scale.
For the past six years, the internet service provider fees and telephone charges associated with connecting the state’s schools and libraries to the internet have been paid through a fund established by NYNEX after state regulators determined the utility’s profits were too high in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, NYNEX has merged with Bell Atlantic and GTE to form Verizon.
A 1999 state law required that all telecommunications companies offering local, in-state, and out-of-state calling plans begin charging a monthly surcharge on July 1. That amount, equal to half of 1 percent, will increase a $50 phone bill by 25 cents.
During a competitive-bidding process last year, Verizon was awarded the job of linking libraries and schools to the University of Maine computer system. In turn, the system’s UNET internet service provider was awarded the contract to connect those 1,150 Maine schools and libraries to the internet.
Besides funding the Schools and Library Fund through the telephone customer surcharges, the state Department of Education has applied for additional money from the federal government, said Joanne Steneck, an attorney with the state Public Utilities Commission. If approved, those funds would cover 60 percent of the internet connection costs and other allowable uses of the money, such as software training programs in Maine’s schools and libraries.