The American Library Association (ALA) submitted a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) call for comments on broadband needs in education including changes to the E-rate program to improve broadband deployment.
The E-rate program is nearing the day when it won’t be able to fund all of the most urgent (Priority One) requests, much less other important requests. This financial shortfall is not surprising because the E-rate program is currently capped at $2.25 billion per year, unchanged from the level at the program’s inception in 1997.
ALA urges the FCC to increase the cap to compensate for inflation and to provide full support for current library and school needs within the original intent of the program — universal access to advanced telecommunications and information services.
“Until the E-rate cap is increased to meet existing needs, the FCC should not consider expanding the type of entities or services eligible for support,” said Dr. Alan Inouye, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP).
Maintaining the flexibility of the current E-rate program is essential to meeting the needs of local libraries and schools. The E-rate program is already designed to accommodate evolving emphases and technologies — prospective beneficiaries need only to submit applications. Fundamental change in the program is unnecessary.
“However, what does need to be changed are the application and disbursement processes, which are mind-boggling in their complexity and detail,” Inouye said.
ALA reaffirms its past support for simplifying the application and disbursement processes, which are major deterrents to libraries in applying for E-rate discounts.
Finally, the FCC should consider actions to require service providers to connect their networks to schools and libraries at speeds that support access to advanced services, as authorized under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Since advanced services to schools and libraries are not universally available 12 years after enactment of the Act, ALA concludes that targeted, proactive actions should now be undertaken and included as an integral component of the National Broadband Plan.