(Senate - August 03, 1999)

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[Page S10071]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. ABRAHAM. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the New 
Millennium Classrooms Act amendment to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1999. 
I am pleased that this amendment was cleared on both sides of the aisle 
and has been accepted by the full United States Senate. The passage of 
the Abraham-Wyden New Millennium Classrooms Act amendment by unanimous 
consent, demonstrates beyond shadow of a doubt that the United States 
Senate is firmly committed to bringing quality high technology to 
schools and seniors. This provision will go a long way toward ensuring 
our nation's technological and economic leadership in the New Economy.
  First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Chairman 
for his leadership and support during this process, without which we 
might not have had this opportunity to pass such important legislation. 
In addition, I would like to express my thanks to Senator Wyden who has 
worked closely with me to develop this strong legislation which would 
bridge the digital divide between technological haves and have-nots, 
ensuring that all our nation's students, and seniors, enjoy access to 
quality technology and the Internet.
  When I first introduced this legislation, I was joined by Senators 
Wyden, Hatch, Kerrey, Coverdell, Daschle, Jeffords, Lieberman, Allard, 
Gorton, Burns, and McConnell. Like me, they believe it will encourage 
companies and individuals to donate more computers to schools, helping 
these institutions train kids for jobs in the fast-growing high 
technology sector of our economy. Since then we have been joined by 14 
additional colleagues from both sides of the aisle.
  Mr. President, our kids must be prepared for the jobs of the 21st 
century, which requires training and experience with computers and the 
Internet. Unfortunately, not enough schools have the equipment they 
need to teach the essential skills our kids and our nation need to keep 
our economic future bright.
  Education Secretary Riley recently testified before the Joint 
Economic Committee, saying that he expects us to see 70 percent growth 
in computer and technology-related jobs in the next six years alone. In 
less then six months, 60 percent of all jobs will require computers.
  However, Mr. President, our classrooms have too few computers. And 
the computers they do have are so old and outdated that they cannot run 
the most basic software or even access the Internet. One of the more 
common computers in our schools today is the Apple IIc, a model so 
archaic it is now on display at the Smithsonian.
  Mr. President, the problem is even worse for those already 
disadvantaged. A recent Commerce Department report, Falling through the 
Net: Defining the Digital Divide'' shows a growing divide between 
technological haves and have-nots. Among the study's findings:
  The gap between white and black/Hispanic households with incomes 
between $15-$35,000 per year has increased, from 8% five years ago to 
13% today.
  Households with annual incomes of at least $75,000 are more than 20 
times as likely to have Internet access than households at the lowest 
income levels.
  All this points up the need to encourage access to the Internet from 
computers outside the home. Access translates into usage, then 
experience and knowledge. Bringing high technology to schools, 
especially schools in economically disadvantaged areas, and senior 
centers will provide students and seniors the opportunity to succeed in 
the next millennium that they might not have had otherwise.
  The Detwiler Foundation, an organization with unparalleled status as 
a facilitator of computer donations to K-12 schools nationwide, 
estimates that if just 10 percent of the computers taken out of service 
each year were donated to schools, the national ratio of students to 
computers would be brought down to five to one, or even less.
  Mr. President, this amendment, through tax incentives, would increase 
the amount of computer technology donated to schools.
  Our amendment would do the following:
  First, allow a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the fair market 
value of the donated computer equipment, including computers, 
peripheral equipment, software and fiber optic cable related to 
computer use, generally, and a 50 percent credit for donations made 
within designated empowerment zones, enterprise communities, and Indian 
reservations. Increasing the amount of the tax credits for donations 
made to schools and senior centers in economically-distressed areas 
will increase the availability of computers to the children and seniors 
who need them most.
  Second, increase the age limit to include equipment three years old 
or less. Many companies update their equipment every 3 to 5 years. Yet 
three year old computers equipped with Pentium-based or equivalent 
chips have the processing power, memory, and graphics capabilities to 
provide sufficient Internet and multi-media access and run any 
necessary software.
  Third, expand the pool of eligible donors. By expanding the number of 
donors eligible for the tax credit we can increase the number of 
computers available as well.
  In addition, this amendment would require that donated computers 
include an installed operating system. Sophisticated hardware can be 
easily damaged during transport or even when the donating company's 
private files and documents are removed. Without the operating system, 
it could be weeks before the school is aware of any problems concerning 
the donation. Further, inclusion of an operating system will ensure 
that students can begin using the machines as soon as they are plugged 
in, without further burdening school budgets with the added purchasing 
costs of an operating system and license.
  This amendment has been endorsed by: the National Association of 
Secondary School Principals, Microsoft, The Information Technology 
Industry Council, The National Association of Manufacturers, The 
Technology Training Tax Credit Coalition, 11 senior executives of 
leading technology companies and venture capital firms, The National 
Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, TechNet, and 
the United States Chamber of Commerce.
  All of these organizations agree that this amendment will provide 
powerful tax incentives for businesses to donate high-tech equipment to 
our classrooms.
  Mr. President, without duly increasing federal expenditures or 
creating yet another federal program or department this amendment will 
give all our children an equal chance to succeed in the new millennium.
  I yield the floor.