In 1998, speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, President Bill Clinton said, “Today, affluent schools are almost three times as likely to have Internet access in the classroom; white students are more than twice as likely as black students to have computers in their homes. We can extend opportunity to all Americans or leave many behind. We can erase lines of inequity or etch them indelibly.”
I was at the U.S. Department of Education when President Clinton gave this address. At the time, we were hard at work launching E-Rate, a sweeping effort born out of the recognition that internet usage was growing dramatically and had great potential to support k-12 education, but access to the internet was not universal. People in the education civil rights community had pointed out that there was a significant divide in terms of who could and couldn’t access the plethora of information available on the internet. In large segments of the nation (particularly rural areas and inner cities) local libraries, schools and museums had no internet service. The infrastructure and fiber cable necessary to provide internet service wasn’t there.
E-Rate is the federal program that offers schools and libraries a subsidized educational rate for telecommunications services, most crucially, internet service. Funded through the Federal Communications Commission, E-Rate was intended to get communities wired and close the