The American Library Association (ALA) on Monday asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to accelerate the goals of E-rate, the program that provides discounted Internet access and telecommunications services to U.S. schools and libraries, the organization announced.
ALA’s statement [PDF] specifically calls for faster deployment of high-capacity broadband and new strategic investments in infrastructure, as well as program changes to save costs and streamline the process so that more schools and libraries can participate in the program.
The statement is the culmination of two months of ALA’s intensive review and research, and forms ALA’s official response to the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking that aims to overhaul the E-rate program, the most comprehensive proceeding since the program’s 1997 inception. The statement, the ALA notes, is in line with with President Obama’s ConnectED goal for access to high-speed broadband and wireless for all America’s students through libraries and schools within five years.
“The nation is facing a sea change in what robust technology infrastructure can enable, and libraries are perfectly positioned to light the way forward and ensure no one is excluded from digital opportunity,” says ALA President Barbara Stripling in the ALA’s announcement. “America’s libraries must move from basic connectivity to high-capacity broadband so our students and our communities can compete globally. The E-rate program is essential for fulfilling this digital promise.”
America’s 16,417 public libraries serve more than 77 million computer users each year, yet only half of these multi-user outlets offer Internet speeds above the FCC’s home broadband recommendation of 4 Mbps. Through these Internet connections, libraries support the education, employment and e-government resources and services all increasingly moving to “the cloud,” ALA notes.
The ALA calls for new E-rate funding to jumpstart and sustain high-capacity and high-speed Internet connections that support digital learning and economic development through libraries and schools. The current funding cap on the program consistently falls far short of meeting basic demand for Internet-enabled education and learning services, and technology trends clearly show needs and future capabilities only are growing, ALA notes.
To address this, ALA says it supports a two-pronged approach: 1) New temporary funding to support the build-out of high-capacity broadband networks and provide increased support for libraries with the lowest levels of broadband connectivity. 2) A permanent increase in funding.
“Current funding does not reflect the economic reality faced by libraries and schools as they try to upgrade their broadband services,” says Emily Sheketoff, director of ALA’s Washington office, in the announcement. “This FCC proceeding provides an important opportunity to add more funding to the program and increase the value of the program to libraries, schools and our communities.”
ALA also urges the FCC to provide additional E-rate discounts for remote rural libraries, streamline the E-rate’s application review process; replace E-rate procurement rules with those of the applicable locality or state; lower barriers to deployment of dark and lit fiber and ownership of wide area networks when they are the most cost-effective ways to deliver broadband; work with libraries and schools to develop “scalable” bandwidth targets and benchmarks for measuring progress against these targets; and allow applicants to file an “evergreen” form for multi-year contracts.
“We commend the FCC Commissioners on their thoughtful and thorough invitation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the E-rate program,” adds Marijke Visser, assistant director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, in the announcement. “[ALA’s] filing is clearly only the first step to an E-rate 2.0, and we look forward to engaging in the process over the coming months.”