Transcript of Press Conference.
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-WV): What we are here, with Congressman Rush, Senator Snowe, and happily Secretary Riley of Education, is because we are fighting for our lives for the future of the children of American. What we have is a classic fight between the huge telecommunication companies in this country, their ability to lobby, their ability to pay money, their ability to intimidate, their ability to have things their ways, which they have always gotten in the past, versus something called the school children of America, who have nothing on their side, except, except a group of people who were in here a few minutes ago, all of the education groups, the library groups, the Catholic Conference, House members, Senators, others, who are fighting to give them a chance to be prepared for the technological world that they are headed into.
The telecommunications companies, the telephone companies, doing everything they can to stop that, and they will stop at nothing, including intimidation of both Congress members and FCC folks. And, we are determined not to let this happen. So we have had a strategy meeting this morning. There is a Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday morning I believe, that we are preparing for, because we want to know -- where is that bill -- that one of the main issues in this, is the telephone companies and some Senators and Members of Congress are fighting, is they say you don't have to wire inside the school building, you don't have to wire classrooms. Well, that's the ball games folks. If you don't wire classrooms that means you have to go to the Principal's office to write your thesis. I am sorry that doesn't happen; that doesn't happen.
[Rockefeller held up a copy of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.]
So, I mean, the law is very clear. The law says elementary, secondary schools, and classrooms. I am reading. That is the law. That is the law that we passed, virtually unanimously. And secondly, in the Report language it says it all over again: elementary and secondary school classrooms. So, this is about, partly about, making sure that the wiring is done from the Principal's office into each of the classrooms in one hundred and sixteen thousand public schools across this county, K through twelve, every public library, and rural health centers.
And this is a battle for children to make sure that we do not have a have and have not society. I think that Congressman Rush would say better than I possibly could that this may be the next civil rights movement, because this will determine who has the opportunity to have a future in America in a world where jobs are going to require not just computer literacy, but extraordinary computer literacy, and those who don't have that future. And if certain Congressmen and Senators who are very busily trying to destroy this and intimidate the FCC get their way, there will be a have and a have not society, that those of us who here will not stand for it. Senator Snowe.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-ME): [tape reference 033] Thankyou. Well, just to add a few comments here, and the reason why we are here today, and I would add that Senator Kerry was here as well, Senator Bob Kerry, earlier in organizing this strategy session. But it is the result of a systematic campaign by the phone companies and members of Congress to unravel the e-rate that will provide for the future of our county, of our children. This e-rate is absolutely essential in order to help communities and schools all over this country to wire up their classrooms and schools. It is for the future of this country. And as Jay said, we will end up being a have and have not country when it comes to educational technology. And, we can't have that. And, so today we have organized an effort to make sure that members of the Senate, and members of the House, and the FCC realize how important the e-rate is to schools and libraries all over America. Already more than thirty thousand schools have applied for the discount in the universal service fund under the Telecommunications Act.
This is no different than when universal service was provided in 1934 for telephone technology all across American. And rural America has to have the same access as urban America. We know there will be divisions if we do not provide this discount for the school systems. For some reason, we are facing a tremendous roadblock and hurdle for the full implementation of this e-rate. And we know that if we don't engage in this fight now to save it, that we will lose it. And so we think that it is a critical effort on our part between now and the hearing that will be held on Wednesday morning before the Commerce Committee, and the FCC testifies, to make sure that everybody realizes how important this is to the thousands and hundreds or thousands of children all across America. They will be denied. There is no other way for these school systems to have this kind of access to the resources to wire up their classrooms if we don't provide it through this Act.
And furthermore, the telephone companies through the Telecommunications Act stand to realize billions and billions of dollars as a result of deregulating this industry. I mean this is a major overhaul, allowing them in an unfettered environment to compete. That is what this Telecommunications Act is all about. And for them to be able to share, to help the young people of America. And in fact, the Merrill Lynch did a report as a result of the e-rate. What did they stand to gain from it? More than four billion of dollars in additional acquisitions and purchases will be made by school systems as a result of being wired, not to mention increased residential phone use as a result of wiring the classrooms. So, they will gain in the final analysis. And I regret that we have reached this point that we have to do all that we can to salvage this before we lose it.
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  So, once again before I call on Congressman Rush, this is, this is a classic fight between the telephone companies of this country and the children of this country who no voice and have the possibility of great future or no future unless you have a lot of money.
REP. BOBBY RUSH (D-IL):  Thankyou Senator, on behalf of the children who desperately need access to the technology that this e-rate initiative and this e-rate program will provide, I want to say that I certainly applaud and commend you for the leadership which you have displayed on this particular issue, and other issues. Let me just say that you are absolutely correct.
This battle we are engaging in right now is the civil rights battle of the nineteen nineties and of the future. There are millions of youngsters who are struggling right now to become a part of American society, struggling to become productive in the American society, who are fighting without any of the technological advantages that are available to others. These individuals will soon be road kill on the information superhighway because they won't have access to the kind of technology, access to computers, access to the Internet. They won't be productive members of society. If in fact this e-rate is diminished, or if this e-rate effort, if it's derailed then we are really creating two different societies.
In my district in the City of Chicago on the south side we have in excess of one hundred schools that have applied for the discount. And certainly those teachers, those students, those principals, indeed the entire city is excited about this effort to provide discounts so that the schools can be wired so that we can have access to technology. This is a moral issue, this is an issue of education, this is an issue that I believe that all the American people will certainly get behind. I am really ashamed, beleaguered, and also disappointed in some of my colleagues who are at the forefront of trying to derail this vitally needed and necessary program. I am on the Telecommunications Subcommittee on the House side, and I will engage other members of the House to support our efforts to resist the efforts by others to derail this, the e-rate program. This e-rate program is absolutely essential. You know if you go into any urban school anywhere in this nation and you walk into an urban school for the most part you will see students there who have no idea about the kind of information available to them, have no idea about how they are being educated, about how they are being shortchanged, by not having access to computers, by not having access to the latest technology, and that that there is no other battle that is nobler than this particular battle as we move forward to make sure and protect the e-rate. Thankyou so much..
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  And obviously, we are extremely honored. This is the first time in the thirteen years that I have been in the Senate that a Secretary from any administration has come to advocate, generally speaking, in a meeting. And Secretary Riley is an extraordinary person, the Secretary of Education. We are very honored that he is hear.
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION RILEY:  I am honored to be here and with the two fine Senators and Congressman who are willing to step up at a very important time for America's children.
The Presidential spoke this morning at MIT. And in that speech he talked about the digital divide. He is very concerned about that -- that the fault line of the future is really those who have education and those who don't. That is, who is going to be able to reach their dreams, and who is not. Technology is absolutely a clear part of that education. This e-rate is as important as anything in education that has come along in the last twenty years. I am excited about having it, and I am very very disturbed about the fact that it is now attempted to be set aside. The President, the Vice President, and I are here to say that we are ready to take that fight wherever that fight needs to be taken.
I went to Paterson, New Jersey, this week, and was there in a little school in downtown Paterson, a school that was built in 1889. A lot of poor kids, struggling to try to get the kind of education that they are going to need that the Congressman is talking about, that Olympia and Jay have talked about. Very little technology. They say that they are making readiness for the e-rate. When the e-rate comes, they are going to get technology into this little school.
To tell them now that something happened, that the politics of this issue, that the power politics of telecommunications companies, now is interfering with this opportunity of these young people to have the kind of education they need is really disheartening. So I join with all those here, and we had a number of education groups, practically all of them, as I observed, that are saying that if the American people out there -- thirty thousand schools and school districts have applied for the e-rate. They are counting on it; they are depending on it. It is important. It is just like the blackboard used to be. You go into a classroom as say you have to go down to a certain office to use a blackboard. Now the computer is just that important. So I would say if these people understood what's happening there would be an enormous uproar. I hope then that people will take a look at, realize this issue is in trouble. And we got to do whatever is necessary to get it done. I thank you for your leadership.
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  We would be happy to answer your questions.
PRESS (COMMUNICATIONS DAILY):  The basic issue that a lot your colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been talking about the last couple of weeks is: "When we voted for the Telecom Act, we didn't vote to raise rates." So the question, is there a separation between, (a) having e-rate with this mechanism, or (b) having some sort of e-rate with another mechanism where rates wouldn't necessarily have to be raised?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  There are a variety of ways this could be done. And the FCC is confident that they can work that they can work that, those ways out, whether there is to be a separate rate a line item rate, or whether it is included in in the so called slick charge, the line line charge. They do not have any worries about that. Their concern is that they are being bombarded with threats, with intimidation, with hostility about this program by a few Senators and Congressmen who are in very important positions -- letters, phone calls, investigation of staff at the FCC, things of this sort, things which the FCC is unaccustomed to facing, and in that this is implementations of rules and regulations, we now understand that the FCC, they have to be shown that the Republicans and Democrats in this Congress are for the program, they are for the telecommunications deregulation act. Part of the premise of which was, we will give you the deregulation that you want, and we will let you go compete with each other, which they have not, incidentally, but they sure have merged and done all kinds of other things. But in return you are going to spend several billion dollars plus every year in perpetuity to wire every classroom in one hundred and sixteen thousand K through twelve schools in this country, every public library, and rural health centers, and you are going to offer between 20 and 90 percent discount on the telephone line access charge monthly that occurs because that line has been established in every classroom. Now that was the deal. The telephone companies are breaking the deal. They are trying to crush the deal. They are trying to deny the children the future. And we have got to stand up and stop that from happening.
SEN. SNOWE:  With that I would add one further point. It is not a question of an unwillingness to work with the phone companies and the FCC to try to resolve this issue. The question is a systematic organized campaign to undermine the e-rate and essentially unravel it. So that is the problem here. They have not been willing to work in good faith to see if we can pursue an effort to resolve this issue. But otherwise it has been this behind the scenes campaign to basically undo the e-rate and destroy it.
PRESS (BNA):  I know that the Telecom Act was a very complicated series of compromises, but given the controversy that has arisen over this issue, if this program really is popular with the American people, they really want it, why doesn't Congress just have a simple up or down vote on a 2.25 Billion dollar program, on a dollar per line, which I believe you and other advocates of the program said it would cost, and the people's representatives can say they are for or against it?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I have no problem in doing that, except that is not the way to do it. That is was the FCC is for. The FCC is totally willing to take on all of that, and has full confidence, as I do in them, that those five Commissioners can make that decision. It is a very complicated, it is not just sort of seventy five cents or a dollar or you put everything into the universal service charge. There is a variety of ways you can do it. But it is extremely complicated. There is a lot involved. There is the timing. There is the eighteen month stretch out. There is the question of the school year versus the federal calendar. There is all kinds of things involved. The point is, that that is for the FCC to do and they are willing to do it. But they are being so battered by the telephone companies and so battered and intimidated and threatened by a few Congressmen and Senators that. They have never run into this kind of hardball before that, for heaven's sake, involves the future of the children of America who can say nothing.
SEN. SNOWE:  And if I may just add a point is that when there Snowe-Rockefeller amendment came to the floor there was an attempt, we had a big debate in the committee, and it was included in the legislation. There was an attempt to remove it, by Senator McCain, and he was defeated on a tabling motion. So we did have a vote on the issue per se. And furthermore, there was a long procedure involved in implementing this provision. There was a Joint State Federal Board that was created, that spent essentially the better part of six months to eight months to come up with recommendations to the FCC. At which point the FCC had to explore and take up those recommendations, and then came out with the final action about a year ago. So this went through a very through process that was open to everyone to submit their comments, and it was explored and evaluated very thoroughly. I think that it is all sort of a distraction. I think that they are using this issue for problems that may have developed in the telecommunications act per se. But if they're having problems with the act, they ought to come back here to Congress and address that. But the fact is they are not talking about the benefits that they stand to gain as a result of deregulating an entire industry for the first time in this its history ____. They are not taking about that. They are not talking about the report that said that they in fact as a result of this e-rate will stand to gain 4.5, 4.8 Billion dollars in additional acquisitions that will be spurred on by the wiring up of schools and classrooms all over American. People do all over American. I have heard from hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds, of schools and libraries. They are thrilled about it. And I think schools systems would be devastated to find out if this is knocked out by members of Congress and the FCC.
REP. RUSH:  I just want to say that I certainly believe that if in fact there was any effort on the House side that it would have an up or down vote, it would pass overwhelmingly. Most members of the House, in my estimation, are certainly supportive of the e-rate. What we are facing here, we are facing is some real vicious form of corporate guerrilla warfare that is aimed at the FCC. And, most members of the Congress, at least, most members of the House that I have talked to in the last day of so, they are not even aware that this issue is occurring, because they have their other concerns. So once they become fully aware of the threat to America's school children that is aimed directly at America's school children by the telephone companies and a few Members of Congress, then they are going to be just as outraged and upset as we are. And we will see them take a real strong stance with America's school children, and fight to protect the e-rate because they are very supportive of it. Every state every district in the nation have schools that have applied for the discount. And we certainly believe that those schools do want to have the e-rate, the discount, that is provided by the e-rate.
SEC. RILEY:  ...
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  ...
So the people who are saying we are not for the e-rate because that could threaten universal service could be in for a very deadly surprise if the e-rate fails and then they are exposed.
PRESS:  Senator, if you have the law already, the effort that you're concerned about is apparently, is to derail current FCC plans to implement. Are you afraid that Congress plans to repeal this provision?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  No, I don't believe they will. I think that what some in Congress are trying to do -- and that is one of the sad things -- you have a relatively few Senators, some of whom are up for re-election, and a relatively few Congressmen, and all of these on both sides in very powerful positions who are just for one reason or another against this. Because they are mad at the bureaucracy, because they are mad, they don't like it, it is a Democratic administration, or they don't like the idea of it or whatever. ...
 We are having a hearing on Wednesday in which I believe it is the leader's of the Commerce Committee on both sides intentions to beat up on the FCC to further intimidate them. ...
SEN. SNOWE:  ...
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  There are the votes on the FCC to implement this. ...
REP. RUSH:  ...
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  ...
REP. EARL BLUMENAUER:  ... over one hundred House members who have signed reaffirming their support for the e-rate. ...
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  ...
PRESS (COMMUNICATIONS DAILY):  Can I just go back to the rate thing? I want to sort of close the loop on this. Are you all saying that, (a) the phone companies should not have raised there rates, or, (b) that when you and your colleagues in both houses voted for this bill you sort of should have known ahead of time that increases would be coming?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  What I want to answer that with is, that the telephone companies, particularly the long distance companies, through access charge reductions, since the telecommunications act was passed two years ago have made more money in access charge discounts than they have paid out, or threatening to have to pay out, and thus using the threat of line items to show the people, look, this, we have to add this on because those people in Congress have said that you have to educate America's children for the future. They have in fact made a, they have gotten more discounts than what is what they would have to pay out. That is not understood by the American people because this entire subject is like subterranean, in its complexity. Which is why some of us have gotten tired of this and we are taking this a lot more public.
SEN. SNOWE:  Well, and also the idea of putting line items on customers' bills. You know, business, and now residential starting, July first. We all know, we understand what that campaign is all about, that is obviously to undermine support for the e-rate. That is what this is all about ...
 They are attempting to approach it from a number of different directions. And therefore, we realize that we don't have much time in terms of making sure that we get our message out so that Members of Congress and those individuals in key positions in the FCC don't take action to undo it.
PRESS:  Was that the letter from [cut off by Green].
JULIE GREEN (RILEY'S PRESS SECRETARY):  Senator, I know that Secretary Riley wants to go to a meeting at the World Bank. I do not know if he wants to ...
SECRETARY RILEY:  Are you all about finished?
PRESS:  Was it the letter from the [cut off by Rockefeller].
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Can I say one thing. One of the things that has not been said here, but which is very much on the minds of all the groups who were here, is that the people of America are going to, come this fall's election, need very much to know who was on the side of the telephone companies, and who was on the side of the future of the America's children. That is a basic issue at stake here. So far the telephone companies have had all the say on that issue -- intimidation of people who might be up for reelection. Now it is time to turn the tables to engage the American people who will be outraged by this, and maybe there will quite a different message to be heard in November.
SECRETARY RILEY:  Senator, I am going to have to go and make a speech. But let me just say this. For everybody in this country who is concerned about their children's education ...
PRESS:  You mentioned a report, or you cited --
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  -- the law --
PRESS:  -- intimidation of --
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  -- Yes I did --
PRESS:  -- staff members --
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  -- and I was hoping that you would pick up on that.
PRESS:  Could you tell us about that?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  No. But that is what you guys are really good at.
PRESS:  Can --
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Yes.
PRESS:  -- but you have heard such reports?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Yes, I know it. And I have been told so by Commissioners. I know it to be the case.
PRESS: Intimidation of staff members of [remainder of question overlapped by Rockefeller and inaudible]
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  -- defense of the investigation, beginning of the investigation --
PRESS:  -- by Congress --
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  -- yes.
PRESS:  Is this the letter from Mr. Bliley that you are talking about?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I have no comment on anything of that sort. You all are very good at this kind of thing.
PRESS:  Was this the letter [cut off by Rockefeller].
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  But let me tell you something. It is unprecedented at the FCC. They are not accustomed to it. And it is having an effect. And that they, that these, some of these senior people should be allowed to get away with that kind of thing is extraordinary because they by doing that are picking America's telephone companies and their financial health over America's children and their futures.
PRESS:  What did you say about the investigation, um.
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Investigations of certain staff members on the FCC have been threatened. Or are being carried out. I don't know that they are not being carried out, or have been commenced.
PRESS:  On what grounds?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  That is what you are all good at.
PRESS:  Is this the letter from the two chairmen and ranking members [remainder of question overlapped by Rockefeller and inaudible].
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  But as the, but that is a pretty good question, isn't it?
SEN. SNOWE:  The number of things, they got engaged in, I mean, that, just a number of things, that have been going on, and now with the hearing, and the concern that, you know, that the FCC is being pressured.
PRESS:  What has to happen now for the FCC to move forward?
SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Meet and vote. And to get the package in order and to vote. ...
[Tape reference 265-299 not transcribed.]