Earlier this week we (ALA) submitted E-rate reply comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on their most recent call for public comment (they issued a Public Notice March 6 to which we responded).
This marks one more step toward an expected summertime order by the Commission in their E-rate modernization proceeding. To put this into the E-rate timeline for those of you not glued to your E-rate seats, this proceeding began last summer with the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in July. Before even that, though, Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Rockefeller held an FCC oversight hearing and introduced his E-rate 2.0 concept and President Obama announced his ConnectED initiative. So, it’s been a long time…
Our reply comments build on the three main proposals from our initial comments. Specifically, we suggest the Commission designate a portion of $2 billion (funds identified through careful scrutiny of current program spending) to immediately address the broadband capacity shortfall of the majority of libraries through our demonstration proposals. We propose:
- A scalable technologies deployment program (building off already existing middle-mile infrastructure for libraries in close proximity);
- School-library wide area network partnerships (incenting mini-consortia between schools and libraries to maximize use and reduce costs); and
- Network diagnostics and technical support (improving library networks and increasing capacity using state-wide structures already in place)
These “Two-for-One” proposals will help the Commission understand and address program barriers that are preventing applicants from taking advantage of high-capacity broadband where it is available, how to make sure the broadband is affordable, and how to make sure limited funds are used effectively and efficiently. They also experiment with ways to get broadband to libraries not yet at the speeds they need to be.
Hence, addressing two issues through one project. Most exciting (yes, E-rate jokes aside, it can be very exciting) is that a number of state library agencies, as well as COSLA (Chief Officers of State Library Agencies), submitted letters of support. In the ongoing negotiations with stakeholders and the FCC, having libraries united will be critical.
Meanwhile, meetings with FCC staff continue. And, because once you have E-rate in your blood it seems like you can never have too much, the FCC is holding an E-rate workshop on May 6th where libraries will be well represented by Stacey Aldrich, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries in Pennsylvania; Corinne Hill, Director of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Public Library; Bob Bocher, OITP Fellow; and Jeff Letourneau, Executive Director of Networkmaine.
We’ll continue building the record at the FCC on “The E’s of Libraries™” – which is the importance of libraries in supporting education, employment, and empowering people in communities across the country and the critical role E-rate plays in getting libraries the broadband they need—now and into the future.