November 18, 2017

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E-Rate’s New Era: A Triple Win in the Effort To Close the Connectivity Gap | Editorial

The decision last month to update the E-Rate program came not a moment too soon and it is a win-win-win for schools and libraries—and families. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to maintain the current E-Rate budget of $2.4 billion for the next two years and, notably, provide an additional $1 billion a year for the next two years for WiFi, brings E-Rate up to speed with the times. Schools and libraries need this critical funding to meet the most basic goals in their service arenas.

Doug Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, speaking to Education Week, framed the vote’s impact in the clearest of terms: “If we had not done this, it would, frankly, have been devastating for schools and libraries.”

Beyond schools, which ultimately receive the bulk of the funding, this decision is also a victory for public libraries, as it indicates that the FCC recognizes the role of these institutions in providing free access to the Internet and, in turn, supporting digital educational initiatives, the acceleration of e-government, and the increasing reliance on the Web for daily communication—personal and commercial. Ultimately, however, this is a win for the families that these entities serve, many of whom do not have any─or adequate─access to the technology that is transforming our society.

The American Library Association (ALA) applied itself to the E-Rate update process, driving a collaborative effort among ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, the Public Library Association, and the Urban Libraries Council evidenced in a letter to the FCC preceding the vote. It stated: “The services today’s libraries provide are not ‘nice to have.’ They are critical for communities across the country.”

For some time, ALA has been working closely with the FCC on E-Rate reform, and Marijke Visser, assistant director of OITP, describes the effort on OITP’s blog. One of the sticking points prior to the vote was the controversial square-foot formula for funding distribution, and in the weeks leading up to the vote, a hard and fast push by librarians and advocates nationwide, as reported by SLJ’s Carolyn Sun, helped inform the ultimate design.

“Generally we have come to view the per-square-foot formula as a manageable solution to the very difficult problem of how to ensure that a wider range of libraries (and schools) receive Category 2 [WiFi] funds. We certainly feel that using a square-foot formula over other options is the most robust method, the easiest for libraries to use, also the easiest for the Commission to implement and monitor,” Visser wrote in an email to SLJ after the vote.

It’s undeniable that progress has been made. “Last year there was no funding at all for either libraries or schools, so the fact that the Commission has identified the $2 billion and is dedicating it to their [WiFi] bucket, we anticipate that many more libraries will receive this critical funding,” noted Visser.

Diverse and passionate feedback helped shape the new scope of E-Rate—warts and all. Nonetheless, important work lies ahead. More will be required to ensure that the process and formula works, that money follows the promise of funding, and that these resources are fully and well utilized. ALA can play an important role in driving that engagement for libraries of all types. Libraries need the organization to support them in the understanding of E-Rate and its changing policies, and help them master the application process. And, critically, the community needs ALA to continue to foster effective alliances to inform policy makers.

Rebecca_sig600x_WebEditorial

Rebecca T. Miller
Editor-in-Chief
rmiller@mediasourceinc.com

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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