Maine State Librarian (and ALA E-rate Task Force Chair) Linda Lord will be the voice of libraries to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on July 17 when it holds a hearing on strengthening the E-Rate program and expanding access to the latest digital technology and learning tools in our libraries and schools. The hearing is timed to coincide with the July 19 Open Meeting of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at which Commissioners will consider an E-rate Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM).
“We are pleased Commerce Committee Chair John D. Rockefeller IV invited Linda and ALA to participate in this national forum,” said Jeff Kratz, Assistant Director, ALA Office of Government Relations. “This is a wonderful recognition of our leadership on behalf of libraries and our communities in the E-rate program and is an important opportunity to showcase how libraries bring together critical internet access with a host of learning opportunities for K12 students and the general public.”
Many of you may be up to speed on all things E-rate, but a few words of background for those new to the term and recent E-rate news:
- E-rate (also known as the Schools and Libraries Universal Service support mechanism) is a critical federal technology funding source for public libraries—providing over $100 million to support library connectivity each year. Eligible libraries and schools apply for and receive discounts for internet access, telecommunications services, and related internal wiring cost. With the help of the E-rate program, 70 percent of libraries now offer internet connections speeds greater than 1.5Mbps, compared with 15 percent a decade ago.
- Each year more than $2 in E-rate funds are requested for every $1 available. Thus it is clear that the program needs substantially more funding to address the increasing broadband and other network needs of our libraries and schools (for more information on the “E-rate fiscal cliff”, click here).
- Earlier this year, Senator Rockefeller, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and others began calling for an “E-rate 2.0” to ensure the program meets the future connectivity needs of libraries and schools.
- In June, President Obama announced ConnectED, which called on the FCC to modernize and leverage the E-rate program to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years.
Taken together, there is a lot of momentum for taking a fresh look at this vital program. The ALA has been working closely with members of the E-rate Task Force to document how this investment of funds has made a difference in our communities, cultivate Congressional E-rate champions, develop library perspectives on how the program might be further improved, and “think boldly” as Susan Crawford challenged a standing-room only crowd at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago when discussing ConnectED.
There are several ways librarians nationwide can participate in this important effort to sustain and strengthen the E-rate program.
- Both the hearing and the FCC meeting will be webcast. Log on and listen in.
- If you live in a state with a senator that serves on the committee, let them know how your community benefits from the E-rate investment in library connectivity.
- No matter where you live, share your E-rate and library broadband success stories with the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. Email Marijke Visser and/or Larra Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Here’s how Cherryfield (Maine) Public Library Co-Director Cara Sawyer told her story: “We were proud to be the first library in our area to partner with the Smithsonian Museums for Interactive Video Conference Programs. Without our high-speed internet, there is no way we would even have a Tandberg Video Conferencing Device, never mind use it for such fabulous programming. The connection has also allowed us to use our Tandberg to connect with other library programs throughout the state for programs such as Lawyers in Libraries and informational sessions for small business with the IRS. Our little library would not exist in today’s day and age without the support of E-rate, and the internet connection it supports. We have been dubbed ‘The Little Library that Could’—but without E-rate…we couldn’t!”
“This is a critical time for librarians to show how we are working to fulfill—or are challenged in our attempt to fulfill—the vision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to assure that no one is barred from benefiting from the power of the Information Age,” said Larra Clark, director, Program on Networks, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP).
“I’d like to give special thanks to Linda for being such a knowledgeable leader within the E-rate Task Force, and for bringing her years of experience and her advocacy to Washington, D.C., this week,” Marijke Visser, associate director, Program on Networks, added.
While Commissioners will consider the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 19, it likely won’t be available for days or weeks to follow. Stay tuned on the District Dispatch as we share Linda Lord’s testimony and more details on the hearing and rulemaking.