Even amidst the burst of the "dot com" bubble, many believe that new information technologies are having a dramatic impact on the way we live, work, learn, and communicate with each other. One of the applications of information technology that has attracted the most attention is "e-learning." Technology has the potential to transform education and lifelong learning. In the future, learners of all ages will be able to tap in to vast digital libraries and online museums, use powerful simulations and games to "learn by doing," and collaborate on projects with peers who are located half way around the world. In pursuit of this vision, the U.S. has made a significant investment in expanding access to the Internet by wiring schools, libraries, and community technology centers through the E-Rate program. However, this investment in hardware and network connectivity is necessary but not sufficient. We will not realize the potential benefits of widespread access to information technology without also creating cutting-edge content and applications that have the potential to significantly enhance education, training, and lifelong learning.
This paper focuses on the potential for an e-learning "commons" to improve and enhance education and lifelong learning for all Americans. Additionally, this paper explores the proposals made to create such a commons, such as the Grossman-Minow proposal for a Digital Opportunity Investment Trust (DOIT) and the Public Telecommunications Service (PTS). The DOIT proposal has been introduced recently as legislation in both the Senate (Dodd-Jeffords) and the House (Markey). The paper identifies important institutional and policy issues related to implementing DOIT, including the opportunity to pay for these new compelling new public investments by earmarking auction and rental fee revenues paid by commercial licensees of the public airwaves.
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