As part of the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office’s efforts to make sense of the recent E-rate Modernization Order (pdf), together with the Public Library Association (PLA), we hosted a webinar with key staff from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Jonathan Chambers, chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis; and Patrick Halley, Lisa Hone, and Chas Eberle of the Wireline Competition Bureau. PLA has made the webinar archive available: Among other topics, the FCC staff covered the Commission’s decision and rationale for the Wi-Fi focus in this first Order and reiterated its commitment to addressing outstanding issues that are necessary to ensure libraries (and schools) have sufficient broadband connectivity to and within their buildings. Staff also explained a few of the options for connectivity adopted in the Order, including managed Wi-Fi services, procuring services from preferred master contracts, and encouraging school and library direct broadband connections. The FCC does not let us remain complacent, however. The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM), released along with the Order, raises the critical question of how to determine the long-term funding level for the program. The staff made it clear that the decision to raise the cap, and to what level, must be based on well-defined data describing the costs for libraries and schools to get to the 1 gigabit connectivity goals adopted in the Order.
ALA and our partners in the library community are exploring scenarios to identify both the challenges and costs of connecting libraries to scalable high-capacity broadband. We know that the revised funding level of the E-rate program also must reflect the recurring expenses associated with the higher levels of broadband connectivity.
On vacation in Maine, I was able to participate in the webinar by using the Wi-Fi at the local library–the only free or otherwise available Wi-Fi within a good 12 miles. An important link for me, but critical for the residents of this community.