What is CIPA?
CIPA, or the Children’s Internet Protection Act, was enacted by Congress in December 2000. In the broadest sense, this law requires all schools and libraries that receive federal technology subsidies to take measures to ensure internet safety – protection against access or exposure to inappropriate or harmful content. In October 2008, CIPA was expanded by the addition of the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act Amendment, which requires the education of minors about appropriate online behavior.
CIPA and E-rate
Access to the internet has become an indispensable feature of our children’s academic, personal, and eventual professional development. In recent years, USAC has acknowledged the integral role internet access plays in our schools and libraries. Given the importance and ubiquitous of internet usage in educational settings, USAC requires that all entities receiving E-Rate funding for internet services remain CIPA compliant by adhering to several specific criteria. Each year, organizations seeking funding must indicate their compliance while filing a Form 486.
Why Applicants Must Remain Compliant
CIPA compliance is required by USAC for an entity to become and remain eligible for discounts. Please note that this applies only to support for Internet Access, Internal Connections, and Basic Maintenance services; schools and libraries which receive funding for telecommunications only are not required to remain compliant. However, following the safeguards outlined in the Children’s Internet Protection Act remains in the best interest of all entities – and in the best interests of students and patrons.
Entities that are not CIPA compliant are not eligible for E-rate discounts. Ensuring compliance, and retaining documents to prove compliance, is vital to establishing and maintaining your E-rate eligibility. If an applicant cannot provide proof of compliance during a review or audit, USAC will COMAD all funding received during the period of noncompliance. Essentially, a non-compliant applicant will be required to reimburse USAC for any funds received via the E-rate Program. Many schools could be responsible for the return of hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars that had been provided by the program over the course of several years if they are not CIPA compliant.
Will Compliance Affect Quality of Instruction and the Accessibility of Online Resources?
CIPA’s guidelines are very broad, and most specifically prohibit access to visual depictions that are deemed “obscene,” “child pornography,” or “harmful to minors” and do not serve an educational purpose. Works of art, literature, and anatomical diagrams do not need to be blocked, as they have clear educational value. Additionally, many schools utilize sites such as YouTube, blogging platforms, and even Facebook for educational purposes or to facilitate discussion, and CIPA does not mandate a blanket ban on these sites or others like them. Only harmful material must be blocked, and extremely rigid filters are completely unnecessary for CIPA compliance.
CIPA also allows blocks to be removed entirely for adults conducting research, and also allows filtering and blocks to be modified for minors conducting research. For example, if a student were writing a paper about the history and effects of drug use and its relation to drug policy (which may require access to commonly blocked content), CIPA allows restrictions to be relaxed to facilitate the student’s research and to allow her to access the content she needs for the successful completion of her assignment.