Protecting Students Online—and Ensuring E-Rate Funding

September 2016

Like the Interstate Highway System, the Internet’s origins were rooted in national security, as the U.S. Department of Defense’s ARPANET in the 1960s. Both projects aimed to facilitate military movement—be it troops and assets, or data—and both became critical to our economy and to individual citizens.

The Internet rightly became known as the “Information Superhighway,” given how it has connected nearly every corner of the globe. The Internet’s value to the education sector has been to expand the possibilities of providing near limitless varieties of content and curriculum for educators and, just as critical, equalize the opportunities of students to access educational content irrespective of their locations and economic status of their educational systems.

The Internet also shares a key characteristic the Highway System in that for the individual user who is careless or unaware, it can be potentially dangerous. When children use the Internet, it is potentially as dangerous as them riding their bikes on a highway.

The threat to our children online is a real and scary situation, one that I know of firsthand as a member of the Law Enforcement Committee on the Board of Directors at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) since 2005. In 1998, NCMEC established the CyberTipline to facilitate reporting suspected crimes of sexual exploitation committed against children. A number of law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service, US Department of Justice, as well as other state and local law enforcement agencies, are partners in this effort. From 1998 through April of 2015, the CyberTipline has received over 4.3 million reports from individual citizens as well as Electronic Service Providers (ESPs).

Congress recognized this growing threat as well, passing the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000. It was designed to address growing concerns about access to obscene or harmful content on the Internet. CIPA goes further than recognizing the issue: It requires schools and libraries that receive E-Rate discounts to develop capabilities that restrict access to this type of content by students. In 2007, Congress passed the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, which required E-Rate applicants to certify that they had CIPA-compliant Internet safety policies to address cyber-bulling issues and ensure that students who used school Internet would behave appropriately in chat rooms and social networking sites. This, combined with the CIPA requirement for schools to monitor online students’ activities that take place on school Internet systems, is designed to mitigate threats of online predators and bullies, as well as establish appropriate online behavior norms.

Clearly, the federal government recognizes the need to facilitate more Internet access in the classroom while at the same time ensure a safe operating environment. For educators and administrators, balancing the demand for increased Internet access to classrooms with the need employ technology, policies and training for students that meets CIPA and other federal mandates can be a tremendous strain. Not only do educators and administrators have to find network vendors that can meet the technical requirements of strong content filtering, they also have to identify partners who can deliver on CIPA-compliant curriculum that teaches students about cyber-bullying and appropriate behavior on social networks and chat rooms. All of this is to ensure that school districts can remain eligible for critical E-Rate funding.

Internet providers such as cable companies and local exchange carriers have been able to meet these growing network requirements with relative ease. The challenge is finding competent partners on the content side that have a consistent and verifiable capability to meet the CIPA/E-Rate mandates. During the past few E-Rate funding cycles, clients began asking Time Warner Cable whether it offered content that met the statutory compliance mandates. As the network has been the focus for core service offerings, TWC sought to identify a content leader that has repeatedly met these stringent requirements. In 2015, TWC entered into an affinity marketing partnership with i-SAFE, a true leader in compliance-required curriculum and compliance administration. i-SAFE was founded in 1998 as a nonprofit that develops content to provide students with the core skills with which to operate on the Internet in a safe manner—content that exceeds the CIPA-mandated training requirements. Since it was founded, i-SAFE now supports over 30 million students in over 4,500 school districts throughout the U.S.

The complexity with which school administrators and educators have to operate has never been more difficult. Parental expectations for students to have access to the same level of state-of-the-art technology that is used in the home has placed both budgetary and implementation strains on the educational system. This gets further compounded when federal funding gets directly tied to mandated security mechanisms and being able to certify that the students have been thoroughly trained in how to operate in a safe manner on the Internet.

School administrators need to rely not just on trusted service providers that can meet their bandwidth demands, but also on a trusted partner that will help them roll out content and curriculum to certify that students operate online as safely as they do when they ride their bikes.

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Matthew Foosaner

Senior Director, Vertical Programs
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