The passage of the Telecommunications bill represents a new beginning. This paper will focus on the role that public utilities commissions are likely to play in the implementation of this legislation and to point out some of the issues which local communities are likely to face in this new beginning. This paper is not written from the perspective of any public utilities commission, but from the outlook of someone who has recently served on the California Senate Bill 600 Task Force. This Task Force was mandated to explore strategies to insure that schools, public libraries and community centers had access to the new information technologies. That experience not only broadened my vision and knowledge of what is to come in the next century but raised many unresolved concerns.
Rather than beginning with a history of the Task Force, I would like to outline what I consider to be essential telecommunication policy issues which government must address. Despite all of the negative rhetoric surrounding government today, including the call for more deregulation, one thing is clear. No one wants complete deregulation of any industry. What the telecommunications industry wants are different regulations. The competing sectors of our society frequently advocate regulations which favor their particular interest group. But before discussing specific telecommunications policies I would like to address the role of technology in today's society.
Technology is the means by which different types of tools are made available and utilized in society. When we talk about communities on "the Net" we are really talking about the deployment of a particular set of technologies which we wish to use in particular places' local communities. It is important to briefly recognize the context in which the particular set of technologies we are considering arose.
Two major forces which facilitated the development of the Internet are the maintenance of U.S. national security interests and the international position of the U.S. in a global economy. The pursuit of these national objectives provided the context and resources for the telecommunication advances we are witnessing. For example, the military concern with a nuclear attack required a communications technology which would assure the transmittal of strategic information which would not be dependent on a single transmitter of information. The Pentagon brought together the resources of the defense and educational research industries to address this challenge. The first manifestation of this collaboration was BITNET and ARPAnet. With time these led to the development of the Internet.
Beginning in the late 1960s, we began to witness a general decline in the economies of the leading industrial nations. One of the responses to this economic crisis was to decrease production costs by lowering wages and decentralizing the production and distribution processes. This led to the formation of multinational corporations. Corporations which conceptualize, manage, produce, distribute, and recycle their products utilizing production and distribution sites which are located in many countries. A critical feature of these multinational corporations are information systems capable of managing global distributed processes.
Communication scholars sometimes fail to recognize these forces resulting in a vision of a new "highway" system which seems to have emerged solely by the efforts of the telecommunication industry. I would like to suggest that this new "highway" is not simply being constructed by private corporations such as AT&T. Many of the people who work in "silicon valleys" throughout the world constructing the new "highway" are immigrants. These immigrants often move between the borders of different countries. In this fashion they are said to exist within more than one national formation. They work and contribute to both national formations although they are frequently not given credit for their contributions to the U.S. economy. As more countries are drawn into a global economy we need to recognize that when immigrants go to another country in search of work, they maybe responding to the changes in their own local economies brought about by the global market.
There seems to be a contradiction in a national policy which on the one hand promotes "free trade" and on the other hand does not want to deal with the international immigration repercussions of that policy . Simply put immigrants are making important contributions to the world economy and to the construction of the new information "highway." Take Los Angeles as an example. The daily attacks against immigrants in Los Angeles both physically and in the media demonstrate the need to look beyond local events to develop empowering strategies to develop healthy communities. Just how is Los Angeles connected to this telecommunication revolution? Saskia Sassen argues for the existence of a global market which in turn is part of a global economy. The global economy is characterized by: 1) the growth of international financial markets; 2) the expansion of the service sector; 3) an emergence of a global network of factories, service outlets, and financial markets, and 4) the concentration of these financial centers in a few global cities (Saskia Sassen. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
Los Angeles shares all of these characteristics. As a global city, it has been undergoing a restructuring which is simultaneously economic, social, cultural and political. This restructuring is being driven by the unprecedented mobility of both capital and labor. The growth of the information sector is a response to the need to manage global markets. For instance, a product can be made in one country, assembled in a second country, and distributed in a third, all managed via global information systems. Los Angeles is now considered a global city which contains several smaller regional global villages: Westlake, Irvine and Hawthorne on one hand, Southeast Los Angeles on the other. Immigrants work in small manufacturing industries which build computers or in border industries which make computer chips. Yet as citizens they often do not have personal access to the same kind of technology they build. The use of these computers today and in the next century is what I would like to focus on next.
The Internet: Precursor to Tomorrow's Information Highway
The Internet as a network of networks which can communicate with each other represents the convergence of many technologies. These include telecommunication and computing to name but two. We are told that the future "highway" will be able to deliver information more quickly than today utilizing broad band technology. It has been argued that today's Internet will undoubtedly be reshaped by the arrival of the new "highway". While today's Internet may not be able to deliver information as quickly as we would like, it is a test bed for not only technological advancements but for social, economic, and cultural experiments.
The Internet has been touted as a useful tool in the development of new "democratic spaces" within local communities. Here I am reminded of Los Angeles City Council member Mark Ridley Thomas support for "Empower L.A.", a local Internet site in South Central Los Angeles. One of EmpowerB9s goal is to develop an electronic town hall. But in order for these new "democratic spaces" to flourish on the Internet or tomorrow's "highway" we need to consider today's political spaces which open opportunities for a truly participatory democracy.
There is a lack of a public dialogue on the "super-information highway". Substantive dialogue has been replaced by sound bites which promise a "virtual new reality". Where are the spaces for ordinary citizens to become aware, literate, and critical of this new technology? There are very few physical public spaces where ordinary citizens can go and lean about the new "highway". Places such as COMP USA or a courses at public colleges or universities do not provide a venue for this type of broad community education. Where are people supposed to learn about this new technology? Where can they share their concerns? Today in the United States, the only public space seems to be the marketplace. Here, issues of concern to various communities rarely surface. Instead a much greater focus is placed on profits, sales, and upcoming commercial products. Can a technology that promises to shape the very fabric of society be implemented without more public dialogue? I say no, not without serious repercussions, and I say this as an advocate of this same technology.
The recent passage of the telecommunications bill suffered from lack of widespread public debate. The telecommunications industry argued that the new "highway" was going to be expensive to build. They argued for a new kind of public-private partnership. In particular they wanted the telecommunications regulations rewritten. They wanted to be able to offer voice, data and video into our home. The new legislation allow this to occur. The boundaries between phone, television and cable companies will begin to dissolve. The telecommunication bill was voted on by a Congress that is dominated by members who do not even have e-mail. It had the attention of industry and legislators more than educators and public citizens. This raises questions of just whose interests our own representatives are serving?
Thus far, the public debate has centered more on censorship issues than on questions of access. Two major flaws of this new legislation are that it lacks any provisions for universal access at a time in our history when many members of communities do not even have phone, let alone cable service. Take California for example.
The California Public Utilities Commission defines universal service as "providing virtually everyone in the state with a basic level of telecommunication services at reasonable rates. It insures that low-income customers and customers that are in areas which are expensive to serve receive the same access to services as other communities." Such definitions remain ambiguous. What does the term virtually mean in this respect? Does it represent a big loophole? How many people are we willing to write off?
The other ambiguous concept within this definition is "basic service". In "Phone Service for Everyone: The Facts About Universal Access," the California Public Utilities Commission define basic service as "the set of features and capabilities consumers expect when they order telephone service." (August 1995) At present access to the Internet is not considered as "basic service". In considering new basic services it has established the following criteria: (1) Is the service essential for participation in society? (2) Do a majority of residential customers subscribe to the service? (3) Will the benefits of adding the service to the basic service exceed the costs? The answer to the first and third questions are affirmative. Which raises the question will the poor need to wait until middle and upper classes have access before this is considered a basic service? If this is so then access to the new "highway" will continue to be segmented along class lines. Clarity at the national level could have strengthened and assured general public access.
Another major shortcoming of the recent telecommunication legislation is the lack of provisions for public access channels for communities similar to previous cable legislation. More than twenty years ago the use of the video camera, cable television and community access channels offered the promise of the emergence of a Jeffersonian electronic commons. Ordinary people could use video to document community issues and air them via community access cable stations (Mark Shuman). The Internet has the potential of even greater democratic participation. However, for it to flourish there should have been some mandated public space on the new "highway".
Finally, the recent legislation does not provide adequate safeguards against the formation of even bigger monopolies. The control of both the content and the dissemination of information is a danger in a democratic country. This at a time when key public institutions like schools and public libraries are under assault. The failure to include these kind of provisions at the national level pave the way for these issues to be hammered out at state public utilities commissions.
California Senate Bill 600 Task Force on Telecommunication Infrastructure for Schools and Public Libraries
In 1993 the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill 600 (SB 600) sponsored by Senator Rosenthal, which found that "California's public schools, libraries and similar facilities are in serious financial distress" and that "current funding mechanisms may not provide them with the funds needed to construct the infrastructure necessary to take advantage of telecommunications technologies and services, to purchase those services, or to provide the education, training, and information to the people they are intended to serve."The SB 600 legislation required the California Public Utilities Commission to establish a task force to explore "ways to address the requirements of institutions such as public schools, libraries and community centers for improved telecommunications technologies and services, to be considered in consultation with established organizations addressing similar topics." The general objective of SB 600 was to insure that schools, public libraries and community centers had access to the new information technologies. According to Rosenthal."The key to the communications infrastructure is to insure that the underpinnings of the information age are available as widely as possible, as accessible to as many as possible, and operate as efficiently as possible." Cooperation between the telecommunications industry, the California business and education communities, and state government can bring forth the benefits of the information age to all California."
The very passage of this legislation was a tacit acknowledgment of something that we assume but, needed to be stated. That is, that the majority of schools, public libraries and community centers in the United States do not have access to the Internet. Senator Rosenthal's qualification "as many as possible" is part of the troubling questions we must address. This new technology should be accessible to all, period. This having been acknowledged the Task Force was given the task of finding ways in which this might be accomplished..
Briefly the Task Force articulated a vision for technologies in schools and public libraries, established the need for this technology, outlined various funding options, proposed a grant program to disburse funds and identified fiscal and technical resources for deploying the new technologies.
Reflections on the Task Force
Initially, the task force was made up of representatives from schools, public libraries- many of whom did not have e-mail. These were joined by roughly an equal number non-voting members from the telecommunications industry, who eventually became voting members. I was invited to join the task force towards the end of the group's deliberations to provide some representation to Latino concerns. My appointment was prompted by a letter from the Latino Issues Forum to the President of the Commission expressing concern about the lack of Latino representation on the Task Force.
While I had served on multiple committees in public life this was a unique experience. At my first meeting I learned that the Task Force had two subcommittees. The first concerned itself with a vision statement and program development. This subcommittee was primarily composed of educators and librarians. The second concerned itself with fiscal matters or "who" was going to pay for schools and libraries to get on the new highway. This subcommittee was dominated by representatives from the telecommunications industry. As I reviewed draft reports, it was obvious that there was a gulf between the two subcommittee reports. On the one hand, the educators and librarians, many of whom were exploring the new technology for the first time, were embracing the new technology, and on the other the representatives from the telecommunications industry seemed position themselves in such a way that costs would not be incurred by the telecommunications industry, even while they touted the technical possibilities. This positioning down played the fact that the telecommunications industry stood to gain billions of dollars from the deployment of this technologies in schools and public libraries. They did, however, correctly recognize that they are voluntarily developing public-private partnerships. What is critical to recognize, however, is that if the deployment of this technology is so critical then can we only count on volunteerism?
An additional troubling issue was the report's omission of the segmented access to the Internet by class, race and gender. Here I would like to share just a few statistics which demonstrate this segmentation for the Latino population. At 25 per cent of the California population, Latinos constitute a significant segment of the state's population. Nationally more than 11 per cent of Latinos do not have a phone in their home. In "The Development of a National Information Infrastructure and It's Implication for Latinos," Armando Valdez argues that "Black and Latino households fall below the national connect rate". A recent report entitled "Latinos and Information Technology" by the Tomas Rivera Center, provides further information that develops this profile. Here they illustrate that only one in eight Latinos have access to a computer at home. A more refined survey of home computers would undoubtedly uncover that many of the computers in these homes are too old to take advantage of the full capabilities of the Internet. They further point out that the dropout rate for Latinos is 29.4 per cent, with many of those leaving schools entering into the service sector in low paying low skilled jobs. What these profiles fail to mention is that there is already a small but active group of Latino Internet users and producers. Another recent survey of Latino community organizations found that while most had computers they did not have high speed modems. High speed modems are required for access to such Internet services as the world wide web. This schematic profile reveals that Latinos do not meet the basic infrastructure requirements to participate in this new technology.
This kind of profile demands targeted action if we are to insure that the majority of California's Latino population gains access to the Internet. Given these facts, it is clear that schools, public libraries and community centers are critical on-ramps and literacy sites. First, schools, public libraries and community centers have long traditions in this country as public institutions open to everyone. Their existing institutional base makes them natural settings communities can access. Schools are also becoming an important place for training people about the new technologies. However, the implementation of this technology in schools is unequal. A recent L.A. Times article, reported that the schools who benefited most from "Net Day" were overwhelming schools in affluent areas which already had access to the Internet, suggesting that school access is also segmented by race and class lines (Los Angeles Times March 11, 1996). Several companies computer and telecommunications companies such as Pacific Bell and Sun Micro Systems organized "Net Day" as a push to get schools wired to the Internet.
Public libraries are also critical public institutions in a democratic society. Have they become retooled and retrained for this new technology? The answer again is generally no. Again, the deployment of new technologies has been segmented along race and class lines. Public libraries in wealthy areas tend to have access to the Internet. Recognizing that this posed a problem, the California State Library instituted the "Info People Project". As part of this initiative participating public libraries were provided a computer, software and an Internet access provider for the general public to access the Internet. As an experimental project it promises to tell us about the problems and prospects of such a venture. This project had the foresight to target minority communities as participants. However, at a time when many public libraries across the nation are closing due to lack of revenue, there needs to be responsibility taken for financing the future of new technologies in public libraries. This question has yet to be addressed.
The Task Force did not address Internet access in community centers. Many communities in the United States have rich traditions of local community organizations. In California, there are thousands of community organizations which provide direct services to the Latino population such as health services, child care, literacy and job preparation to name a few. Very few of these however, are on-line. The last few years have seen the development of a new kind of community organization. A demonstration project called Plugged-In exemplifies the best of this new tradition. At this new site children learn a new kind of literacy, one that includes reading the word, reading the world. One of my favorite examples are the family life stories created by children and shared over the Internet. We need to build more of these across the country. Perhaps these can play an important part in linking other more traditional community organizations. But who pays for them? Primarily they receive grants.
When I came on board the Task Force was working to complete its report to the State Senate. This task ended up taking almost a year. The meetings were always lively. The discussions were at times heated but always marked by a willingness to explore the issues which were raised. Our discussions were not limited to the report but other matters which the Commission was considering. For example the Commission had ordered Pacific Telesis to set aside approximately 50 million dollars because it had failed to refund 7.9 million dollars in research and developments charged to ratepayers for cellular research. The Task Force reviewed Governor Wilson's proposal to use these funds to underwrite telecommunications activities in today's schools. We were able to recommend language which made it easier for minority school districts to compete for funding. I found myself constantly advocating for schools and public libraries who did not have access to the new technologies and might not be competitive in a grants competition. I also advocated for the equal access statements within the report.
On the fiscal side, the Task Force recommended the adoption of a portfolio approach that depended on many sources of funds which still did not provide a resolution of the ultimately responsible party for financing the deployment and use of this new technology. The Task Force also brought together several useful resources for educators and librarians to consult when developing their own plans. The vision statement "California Life Long Learning CALLL" also marked a new point of departure. The Task Force a Grants Program recommended by the report will be the most tangible items which came out of the report.
Without its implementation the work of the Task Force will be a failure. The Task Force shied away from identifying how Internet access was segmented along class, race and gender lines. This is work that remains to be carried out. The point of these observations is not to critique the Task Force, which has itself made some great strides particularly by bringing various stakeholders together, but to share with you some of the actual barriers which must be addressed if we are to achieve the potential that the new technologies make available. First, there is the issue of different discourses and often competing interest. Educators have their own interest, the telecommunication industry have theirs. I do not want to suggest that these are mutually exclusive but there needs to be continuing dialogue. If we are serious about making new technologies part of our schools, public libraries and community centers, someone has to pay for it. We need to encourage volunteerism (like California's Net day) and public-private ventures, like Pacific Bell's "Education First" and AT&TB9s "Family Education Network" but in the end it is our government's responsibility to provide a quality education promoting both excellence and opportunity.
Executive Summary of California SB 600 Task Force Telecommunications Infrastructure for K-12 Schools and Public LibrariesAddressing Caifornia's Learning Crisis
"We must ensure that government takes full advantage to educate our kids and continually train our works force, grow our economy, make government more accessible and cost effective and enhance the quality of life for all Californians."
Governor Wilson, Governor's Wilson Information Technology Council
The urgency of this statement is underscored by the fact that, last year, California fell to 50thth in the ratio of students to computers, with less than 2% of educators accessing or using telecommunications (Quality Educational Data, 1994,). Further, California ranks among the bottom in state funding for technology.
What are the implications of this deficiency? Simply put, California is falling behind. As information-intensive services supplant manufacturing and defense production, the need for workers proficient in technical and professional skills has increased dramatically. How can California achieve and maintain a competitive advantage in this emerging global information economy? The answer is through proactively integrating the use of technology in our public schools and public libraries. Integrating technology into the life-long learning environment will establish the critical link in nurturing information-literate citizens; it will revive the California economy.
A Vision for the Future
"We will soon have a visionary blueprint for California's future in the information age."
Governor Wilson, Governor's Information Technology Council
It is the year 2000, California has implemented plans and policies to transform education, enabling Californians to fully participate and compete in a rapidly changing worldD1a world dominated and liberated by networked information technology. A new education paradigm, called California Life-Long Learning (CALLL), unites and inspires various groups to collaborate, connect, and move California out of its old educational doldrums. California, often the trend setter, is now seen as a global leader in creating, developing, and deploying networked learning technology for all ages.
CALLL links schools, libraries, senior centers, homes, businesses, and government as part of an expanding California Information Infrastructure (II), National Information Infrastructure (NII), and Global Information Infrastructure (GII).
CALLL is more than technology. It really is about peopleD1people of any age learning from other people and using the best means to do just that. In addition to networked information technology (networks, computers, software), staff and professional development are key aspects of this new paradigm. A new literacy standard is in place -- Information LiteracyD1and both learners and facilitators (teachers, librarians) are certified via this standard. In the year 2000, all facilitators are certified, and some students already work in the digital studio/virtual office/distributed work environment of the third millennium.
Unprecedented collaboration, coordination, and action have fueled this California transformation. The Governor, the Legislature, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Librarian, the state Library Association, the Department of Education, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Teachers' Association, key information technology businesses, parents and students joined together to implement policies based on a shared vision established in 1995 - The California Life-Long Learning vision.
Pursuit of the Vision
"The powerful convergence of technologies presents an unprecedented opportunity for action."
Governor Wilson, Governor'sInformation Technology Council
To begin pursuit of the vision today, the task force conducted a needs assessment. This needs assessment emphasizes a fundamental and expansive management support, in order to transform the future of public education, life-long learning, and community interactions in California.
Currently, there are few examples of California public schools with access to the information infrastructure. Due to limited funding, these isolated "information islands" are not connected to one another, nor are they managed by highly trained individuals. While many public libraries have access to the information infrastructure, this access is inadequate, with few workstations for public use. For example, only 21% of the state's over 1,000 public libraries have Internet access, often limited to a single publicly accessible work station. Consequently, the far-reaching benefits of the information age are not being realized by the state's populace.
Critical components of a technological plan that will successfully provide information infrastructure access to all Californians through our public schools and public libraries include:
Estimating Cost Scenarios
Having identified these critical components, the task force developed two cost scenarios for connecting California's public schools, public libraries, and communities to the emerging network infrastructure. One involves basic technological deployment. Both scenarios consider the costs of wiring, hardware, software, training, and connectivity. Where they differ is in the number of sites that will have access to the information infrastructure.
Basic technology deployment in California's public schools and public libraries is an expensive proposition - approximately $2.9 billion. Minimal deployment is estimated at $1 billion. However, the benefits of an educated, technology-and information-proficient populace far outweigh the costs. And costs may be recovered in the short-run: a Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates study determined that North Carolina, a smaller state with a correspondingly smaller information economy than California, could add $2.7 billion to its state gross product and create at least 44,000 new jobs by 2003, simply by providing statewide access to the information superhighway.
Financing Infrastructure: A Portfolio Approach
Without sufficient funding, California public schools and public libraries, and California's economy, will not receive the benefits of access to the information infrastructure. To ensure sufficient funding, the task force has identified several major funding sources. The report explores these major funding source areas, examines specific options within each area, presents pros and cons of each option, and weighs each option against the financing requirements of a comprehensive infrastructure program. Proposed funding sources include:
Grant Program Criteria
The grant program for public schools and public libraries to receive funding must be simple, fast, and equitable. It must ensure funding for those learning institutions with the greatest need and a commitment to using the network. To apply for funds, public schools and public libraries shall, at a minimum:
Fulfilling the Promise
Connecting California classrooms and libraries to the National Information Infrastructure is essential to ensure the state's ability to compete nationally and globally. With the rise of a highly technological global marketplace, learning institutions are faced with the ever-increasing challenge to prepare Californians to compete in the 21stst century. Preparing a workforce that is well educated and trained in information technologies is essential to secure California's economic strength and competitiveness. The development and implementation of a telecommunications network and information infrastructure for the state's public schools and public libraries is an essential component of the plan to improve the state's education system and the quality of life for all Californians.