Or rather was coming. It was coming in 1997. It officially “came” when the funds became available on January 1, 1998. The E-rate program was created was established as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This is quite the cryptic little program. Little of substance can be found about it, even on the FCC website section about the program.
Essentially, this piece of legislation was to require the FCC to mandate affordable Internet access to schools. The act seems to be very broad in scope, but shy on details. When something like this happens within a government decision, the entity itself is open to speculation on purpose as well as scandal. An interesting piece from the FCC site concerns the petition by Apple and WINForum to make some of this connectivity available as a wireless connection. The idea behind this back in 1997 was that many schools have issues with asbestos-laden construction. Outfitting a school of this age/construction is a very costly thing. The wireless petition was in tended to be a solution for schools that could not afford the infrastructure improvements due to asbestos. From the FCC site:
“…in response to petitions filed by Apple Computer, Inc. and WINForum, that seeks comment on making spectrum available for use by new unlicensed equipment called NII/SUPERNet devices. The proposal is relevant to schools since these devices could help link classrooms to the Internet by wireless means, thus providing schools an alternative to installing wires in classrooms. In response to the NPRM, 52 comments and 26 reply comments were filed. On January 9, 1997 the Commission released an order amending FCC rules to make 300 megahertz of spectrum available for use by this new category of unlicensed equipment, now called Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) devices.
I struggle to imagine what wireless computing technology must have consisted of on 1997. Only recently has this become a reality in schools with regard to end-user technology.