Internet Funding Freeze Could Leave Schools And Libraries In The Cold

Engineers in the Gulfport School District are installing an $80,000 system that scans employees hand prints to determine when they clock in and when they clock out. Money from the federal E-Rate Program will pay for running the system.

But the future of this device and other computer-related services is in doubt, now that funding for the E-Rate program has come to a halt. Gulfport Schools could lose $105,000 a year.

Terri Burnham is the school district's technology director. She said "It's going to mean some very critical times. It's going to mean that we have to eliminate some programs that won't fit in older servers, or we won't be able to use newer programs, newer software. We won't be able to upgrade".

It could also force the district to decide whether to pull the plug on Internet access in the classroom. Burnham said "If they can afford the line fees, then I hope we'll be able to continue the Internet. If they cannot afford the line fees, then that's something we'll have to look at. It would force our board to decide whether or not to cut programs or people".

Libraries in Harrison County also rely on $64,000 in E-Rate money to help cover the costs of Internet service. The library system operates 220-computers in nine facilities.

Library Director Robert Lipscomb said "What I'll have to do is take the money out of my books, cd's, audios, that type of thing. I really don't want to do that, because that budget's not that great".

Now, libraries and schools will just have to wait and see if the funding freeze will end soon.

Lipscomb said "It's a tremendous asset. This money is very important to us. I'm hoping that this is temporary, that it may be political a little, and it'll be over soon".

Burnham said "I'm very concerned.  But I'm one of those people who take one day at a time, and just hope for the best".

Just so you know, if you own a phone in your home or business, you help fund the E-Rate Program. The fee is charged to your phone bill every month.