A ProPublica investigation has revealed that carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless are gouging poor school systems nationwide with astronomical prices for Internet connectivity.
But the problem goes beyond right and wrong.
It’s against the law.
Federal law for more than a decade has mandated that telecommunications companies provide schools enrolling the most disadvantaged students with the lowest rates to buy access to the Web.
Worse, the U.S. government itself has done precious little about it, reports two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Jeff Gerth.
Commonly known as E-Rate, the federal program is supposed to offer U.S. schools and libraries telecommunications and Internet access at a discount.
But through interviews and public records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Gerth found that more than 10 years “after the program started, AT&T was still not training its employees about the mandatory low rates, which are supposed to be set at the lowest price offered to comparable customers.”
The story continues:
Lawsuits and other legal actions in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York have turned up evidence that AT&T and Verizon charged local school districts much higher rates than it gave to similar customers or more than what the program allowed.
AT&T has charged some schools up to 325 percent more than it charged others in the same region for essentially the same services. Verizon charged a New York school district more than twice as much as it charged government and other school customers in that state.
Yet the U.S. government is at fault, too, Gerth reports. The Federal Communications Commission has done little to enforce regulations or help companies provide the lowest prices to schools. In 16 years, the FCC hasn’t brought one case against a company for failing to comply with the law.
An AT&T spokesman told ProPublica that the company fulfills all of the E-rate requirements. A Verizon spokesman said the company trains employees on all legal obligations. FCC officials declined to answer questions.
ProPublica has also posted the E-Rate audits it obtained in the course of putting the story together.
Contact Mike Cronin at email@example.com or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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Photo 'Motherboard in CD-ROM 2' by flickr user Adrian S Jones, used via a Creative Commons license.