E-rate, always someplace on the ALA policy agenda, is now way up at the top, thanks to the ConnectED initiative announced by President Obama last month. A few weeks ago, Linda Lord, the state librarian of Maine, testified about E-rate at the Senate Commerce Committee. On Tuesday, July 23rd, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the E-rate program.
When I first perused this NPRM, my reaction was WOW! Actually, I paraphrased slightly, as my reaction included one of the FCC’s seven dirty words, not appropriate for District Dispatch. The FCC is soliciting comments about virtually every facet and form of the E-rate program. It isn’t every day that a federal agency puts an entire existing program out for public comment, so this is truly extraordinary, and ALA appreciates the opportunity the FCC has presented.
On July 30th, I served on a panel to explore this NPRM, which was sponsored by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training and took place at the U.S. Capitol. My panel, moderated by Jon Bernstein, co-chair of the Education and Library Networks Coalition (EdLiNC), included Trent Harkrader, an associate bureau chief of the FCC, and Bill Ziegler, a high school principal from Pennsylvania. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel opened the session.
The panel discussions clearly identified the huge challenge in sifting through the hundreds of questions and figuring out those of highest priority on which to focus limited time and resources. Comments are due on September 16th and so we have our work cut out for us. Given that August is vacation time for many of us in D.C., no doubt we will be mixing leisure time and E-rate rules (hey maybe that could make for a neat cocktail—e-rate-tini anyone?).
I want to emphasize the importance of this NPRM to the library community. The E-rate program provides a couple of hundred million dollars to the library community each year. The FCC has placed the biggest questions about this program on the table: Should it increase the overall funding level and if so, by how much and in what way? Should the priorities within the program be changed? Should the FCC consider new ways to allocate funding? How can the application and disbursement processes be simplified and improved? How can applicants obtain better pricing on their telecommunications services? You get the idea…
So look for more information from ALA in the very near future. The entire ALA E-rate team is mobilized, so our friends around the country may well be called upon to provide expert advice on various aspects of the program and the realities of participating in the E-rate program.
Here’s to the E-rate!