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FCC Issues Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) Rule Revisions Adding New Requirements for School Districts’ Internet Safety Policies

This month, the FCC released long awaited Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) rule revisions. CIPA is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive, obscene or harmful content by minors over the Internet on school and library computers. In early 2001, the FCC issued rules implementing CIPA.  FCC recently released Order 11-125 containing rule revisions and clarifications; the most notable rule revision is the requirement that schools applying for E-rate discounts on anything more than telecommunications (such as telephone services) must adopt and enforce Internet Safety Policies that require the monitoring of the online activities of minors as well as the education of minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyber bullying. The FCC clarified that although a school’s Internet safety policy may include the development and use of educational materials, the policy itself does not have to include such materials. For CIPA purposes, a “minor” means “any individual who has not attained the age of 17 years.” The new requirements are for FY 2012, the E-rate funding year beginning July 1, 2012.

CIPA requires that before adopting an Internet Safety Policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal. Districts that have existing and properly adopted Internet Safety Policies will not be required to hold new public hearings to amend their policies. New applicants, adopting an Internet Safety Policy for the first time, continue to be bound by the public notice and forum requirements of CIPA.

In addition to the new policy mandates, the FCC clarified that the determination of what is “inappropriate” for minors is a local decision to be made by the school board, local educational agency, library, or other authority. Most specifically, the FCC found that social network websites (e.g., Facebook and MySpace) do not fall into one of the categories that must be blocked.

Although CIPA requirements mandate filtering school or library computers used to access the Internet , the FCC acknowledged that there was confusion as to CIPA requirements pertaining to the on-site use of portable devices such a laptops or cell phones owned by students and library patrons to access school or library provided internet services. The FCC indicated that it intended to seek public comment on these issues in a separate proceeding.

In light of the recent FCC Order, School Districts are encouraged to review existing Internet Safety Policies now and begin revising them to incorporate the new CIPA mandates for the monitoring and education of minors by the July 1, 2012 deadline.

You are invited to contact BMD with your CIPA or policy questions.