Libraries, E-rate, and ALA featured at TPRC

The scene at the 2014 Telecommunications Policy and Research Conference. Photo by TPRC.

The scene at the 2014 Telecommunications Policy and Research Conference. Photo by TPRC.

Last Friday, the American Library Association (ALA) made its first appearance (and through a whole panel no less) at the Telecommunications Policy and Research Conference (TPRC), the most prestigious conference in information policy. The telecommunications policy topic, not surprisingly, that has dominated our time for over the past year: E-rate.

The panel “900 Questions: A Case Study of Multistakeholder Policy Advocacy through the E-rate Lens” was moderated by Larra Clark, director of the Program on Networks for ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). The panel featured Jon Peha, professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and former chief technologist of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); and Tom Koutsky, chief policy counsel for Connected Nation and a former Attorney-Advisor at the FCC. Rounding out the panel were Marijke Visser, ALA’s own Empress of E-rate and OITP Director Alan S. Inouye.

The panel served as a great opportunity for ALA to cohesively consider the extensive effort on the current proceeding that we’ve expended since June 2013. Of course, it was rather a challenge to pack it in 90 minutes!

Marjike Visser, Larra Clark, and Alan S. Inouye focused on the multiple key tradeoffs that arose in the past year. Supporting the FCC proposal that led to the first order, even though it focused on Wi-Fi–important, but not ALA’s top priority, which is broadband to libraries (and schools)–based on the promise of a second order focusing on broadband to the building. We worked hard to stand with our long-standing coalitions, while not in full agreement with some coalition positions. The panel explored tensions with: school versus library interests and the importance of both differentiation and collaboration; rural versus urban concerns; near-term versus long-term considerations; and the risks and rewards of creative disruption.

Tom Koutsky and Jon Peha provided context and analysis beyond the library lens. The E-rate proceeding emanated from a multi-year process that began with the National Broadband Plan and investments in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Koutsky and Peha illuminated the oft-hidden complexity behind advocate groups, who on the surface may seem to represent similar interests or organizations, but in fact engage in considerable conflict and compromise among themselves. They also discussed the challenges with new stakeholder entrants and their competing interests, both in the short run and long run.

This TPRC session is an important milestone for OITP. The Policy Revolution! Initiative is predicated upon reaching decision makers and influencers outside of the library community who affect critical public policies of interest to our community. Thus, increasing the ALA and library presence at key venues such as TPRC represents important progress for us as we continue to work through re-imagining and re-engineering national public policy advocacy. Also in the September-October timeframe, OITP representatives will present at the conferences of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), NTCA–the Rural Broadband Association, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA).

The E-rate saga continues: ALA will submit comments in the most recent round–due tonight (September 15th)–and will submit further comments in the weeks ahead, as well as continue our discussions with the commissioners and staff of the FCC and our key contacts on Capitol Hill.

About Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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