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It is my very strong belief that free connections to the National Information Infrastructure (NII) may not be enough. If we want young people to actively use the technology of the future so it becomes second nature to them, then we must go a step further and provide free usage of the telecommunications lines that will connect school children and young people to new sources of knowledge. The principle of "free" public education for all children is the bedrock of our democracy. Not cheap, inexpensive, or available for a fee but in its very essence "free." We believe in this basic American principle because we know its long-term value for society as a whole.

A child or young person who gets an education of high standards and excellence becomes the worker you can depend on, a better citizen, and a stronger consumer. An early investment in education should have broad application in creating a rate structure for the future use of the NII. Educational institutions, large and small schools, libraries, literacy centers, early childhood centers, community colleges, and universities should have access and usage of these services. If we can't connect the NII with all educational institutions at once, then schools, libraries, and literacy centers should be at the top of the list. I believe that this early investment in education will provide a handsome and long-term economic return to business and to the nation as a whole.
--Richard Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education

Technology itself can't provide educational excellence, but it certainly can be utilized as a tool to aid and deliver it. The necessary technological literacy and skills for modern living and productive employment are best learned at an early age. Since the late 1970's and early 1980's, personal computers have been extensively deployed in K-12 and higher education environments. Eventually stand-alone systems were networked to form learning laboratories and share peripherals and resources. More recently, these learning tools have been connected to a wider realm of on-site resources (i.e., school library or administration) and through the Internet to the world at large. A recent study found that in 1995, 37 states provided a connection for their K-12 institutions to the Internet via a statewide education network, up from 29 states in 1993. Seventeen states support their educational networks as a separate budget line item. Federal, state and private funding for such statewide networks was more than $207 million in 1995 ($199 million from state allocations). The same study reports that 6% of Arizona school districts have direct Internet connections and 31% have local dial-in access. (Source: Quality Education Data "Networks Now 1995: A Survey of How Schools Use Telecommunications Networks in Education) Recently, some state Public Utility Commissions have been requiring BOCs to use excess earnings to link schools to the Internet.

The Arizona Department of Education provides local access to the Internet in Phoenix, Yuma, Tucson and Flagstaff through its AzEdLink program. Currently 3,000 users are supported and the department's World Wide Web site offers access to background on their visions and goals as well as access to many educational resources (see Arizona Projects and Activities of Note for more details). Beyond government provided funding, many private initiatives are surfacing to support educational goals through advanced telecommunications services. For example, AT&T has recently announced their Learning Network, a $150 million commitment to put all the nation's 110,000 K-12 schools on the information superhighway by the year 2000. AT&T Capital Corporation offers innovative financing programs for high-tech equipment, software, and even building wiring, with tax exempt lease/purchase as an alternative to bond issues. In California, America Online has offered to connect over 2,000 schools next year providing unlimited free access to its services. President Clinton recently announced that Tech Corps will become a primary means of bringing technology into the classroom by recruiting, placing and supporting volunteers from business to lend technical support to schools in their communities. Many other such opportunities for public-private partnerships will be forthcoming and Arizona needs coordinated efforts in identifying and responding to such potential programs. In Arizona's higher education environment, Arizona State University through their world-class Computer Commons and statewide outreach through ASPIN, has exhibited vision and persistence in bringing access to advanced information resources to the educational community and beyond. Northern Arizona University's NAUNet has pioneered distance learning, again statewide, with an extensive microwave network and a commitment to content development (again see the section on Arizona Projects and Activities of Note for more details). The Western Governor's Association has articulated a vision of a degree-granting "Virtual University" through their SmartStates program, foreseeing regional cooperation in distance learning for cost-effective, high quality delivery of higher and adult education. From the land-grant universities of the 19th century, America has committed its resources to the development and support of its higher educational institutions. In the past, this often meant the funding of physical infrastructure, institutions that students came to. In the Information Age, this support will hopefully translate to deployment of high technology infrastructure and applications, enabling the institution's offerings to be participated in "virtually" or remotely.