Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version

October 2002


Published by Integrated Studies of Educational Technology.


Although the United States is a leader of the technological revolution, there are segments of American society—particularly the poor, minorities, and the geographically isolated—for whom access to computers and the Internet is significantly lower. The E-Rate, created by Congress as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-104), is a federal program that seeks to bridge this “digital divide” by supporting broader public access to the new digital technology at public and private nonprofit educational institutions. The availability of such public access points has been found to reduce economic and racial disparities, and some research suggests that when used by trained and well-supported teachers, technology can improve learning, especially for disadvantaged children (Becker 2000). As two principals in this study observed, “Technology is a vital part of our students’ learning” and “The availability of computers and software is a must when we look at the demands on meeting academic standards.”

But modern digital technology can be expensive to acquire and can force educators to make difficult choices between investing in technology or in other strategies for improving student learning (e.g., teacher professional development, smaller classes, and better curriculum). Consequently, the E -Rate was designed to help schools and libraries gain needed access to the Internet and other digital technology while allowing them to use their scarce resources to support other critical aspects of educational reform. As one principal reported, “This program has allowed us to have more and better communications equipment and greater, faster access to the Internet. It has freed funds for other activities that would not have been available.”

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