The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate modernization proceeding is one of the most consequential public policy discussions in a decade. The success of this proceeding is essential to enable libraries and schools to meet the needs of America’s communities in the digital age. The gigabit broadband vision outlined by the President—and which is a fundamental aspect of the Commission’s E-rate reforms—is critical to support the indispensable role libraries play in our communities. Libraries complete Education, jumpstart Employment and Entrepreneurship, Empower people of all ages and backgrounds and foster community Engagement—“The E’s of Libraries™.”
The American Library Association (ALA) recognizes the difficult task in front of the Commission to move the E-rate program from basic connections to high-capacity broadband and is supportive of its effort to do so. ALA and libraries also have fully engaged in this challenge with our school colleagues and hundreds of other stakeholders to answer an urgent call to meet 21st century learning demands. And there is broad consensus that we cannot meet these demands with funding that has hardly budged in 18 years. We must establish a sustainable foundation for the future.
For many years, librarians have reported that the complexity of the E-rate program is a major inhibitor for participating. We’re pleased that the Chairman’s proposal includes a number of ways to simplify and expedite the application process for applicants, which will help more libraries to benefit from the program.
When the FCC identified the $2 billion “down payment” to help meet 21st century E-rate demands, ALA saw this as an opportunity to both support robust Wi-Fi connections and propel libraries to the gigabit goal—for urban, suburban, and rural libraries.
Mobile internet use in libraries is exploding, and this first step by the Chairman to address this need is important for the vast number of schools and libraries that have not received E-rate support for internal (e.g., Wi-Fi) connections for many years.
But this is not enough to meet our national needs. The lack of access to affordable, high-capacity broadband to the building remains a major challenge for so many libraries and schools. Such access must be fully funded for eligible applicants, regardless of any new funding models for Wi-Fi services.
Wi-Fi without adequate broadband—which is the case for the majority of the nation’s libraries that have internet connections of less than 10 Mbps—does not come close to adequately serving the education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and civic engagement needs of our communities. ALA urges the FCC to incorporate a portion of the down payment to high-capacity broadband—that is, to priority one services—in this first order.
We understand that the Commission adopted a multi-stage strategy, and we appreciate the Chairman’s commitment to address outstanding issues as part of an ongoing E-rate modernization process, preferably in the very near term. ALA looks forward to working with the Commission on this E-rate reform effort to fulfill the vision for gigabit speeds to our nation’s libraries and schools to meet our country’s 21st Century needs.