The E-rate reform proceeding now being undertaken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to be one of the highest policy priorities of the American Library Association (ALA). The next development in this proceeding is submission of our reply comments by Friday, November 8.
The reply comments build on ALA’s initial comments submitted in September. In addition to ALA’s comments, the library community benefits from the submissions from other stakeholders that include foundations, state libraries, library systems, K-12 school systems, public interest groups, and many others.
Many libraries are fortunate to receive financial support from foundations for varied purposes. Going beyond funding, however, foundations have special credibility in the realm of public policy. By their nature, foundations consider the overall welfare of an area and think about the long-term implications. Foundations also are in the business of assessing strategic initiatives and investments. Thus, the policy support of foundations is highly beneficial to national policy advocacy.
One of the strongest advocates for libraries worldwide—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—submitted comments on the E-rate proceeding to the FCC. The Foundation’s comments amplify many of ALA’s positions, including the overarching emphasis on “affordable, high-capacity broadband access to the nation’s schools and libraries.” There is also alignment on many other major issues too, such as
- increasing the E-rate funding cap
- establishing broadband capacity targets (but not mandates),
- encouraging coordinated state and local planning and consortium purchasing
- streamlining the application process
- reducing the administrative burden on program participants
The Gates Foundation “strongly support[s] the Commission’s decision to explore greater investments in E-rate and other aligned improvements to the program designed to ensure that it continues to open virtual doors to real life outcomes for students, teachers, and a diverse array of library users across the country.”
The library community also benefits from the E-rate advocacy support of another high-profile foundation. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation submitted comments, highlighting the funding shortfall: “It [the E-rate program] gets double the applications it can handle, not counting those who do not apply because they don’t think they have a chance, or because the process is just too cumbersome.” Moreover, the Knight Foundation recognizes the particular place of libraries in communities: “Because schoolhouses outnumber library branches about 10 to one, the E-rate should be mindful of the communitywide role of libraries by increasing their funding.”
ALA appreciates the policy support of these two prestigious foundations. Indeed we hope other foundations will join them in publicly supporting high-capacity broadband for libraries in this critical E-rate proceeding and elsewhere.