E-rate is nothing if not opportunistic and opportunity struck while hundreds of librarians combed congressional offices during National Library Legislative Day to talk with representatives about funding the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and to support programs for school libraries as well as Net Neutrality and privacy issues. I was able to sneak two away from the Leg Day activities to meet with Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. ALA president Courtney Young and E-rate Task Force Chair, Kathi Peiffer presented Chairman Wheeler with the Council Resolution adopted at the 2015 Midwinter meeting honoring him for his leadership and vision during the recent E-rate Modernization proceeding.
For those of you who diligently followed the E-rate proceeding—spanning about 18 months—you are well aware of the many negotiations we took part in and the many issues we waded through to get from the initial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the final two Modernizations orders. You are also aware of the habit I got into of incorporating my family into my blog posts (well the poor things were subjected to long monologues on the various merits or our different proposals and were half neglected during the rush up to the Commission votes on the two orders). I am still mastering millennial speak, but I am confident the above title for the post accurately summarizes the heart and intent of the Resolution.
Clear Vision, Firm Leadership, Strong Commitment (oh, and quite a bit of tenacity)
Because Chairman Wheeler began with a clearly articulated vision for the E-rate program as the Commission set about revamping the 18 year old program to fit the 21st century broadband needs of libraries and schools and the public they serve, he and the Commission staff gained our respect early in the proceeding. The willingness of the staff to listen to our numerous “pitches” and provide concrete feedback (and also ask challenging questions to justify our positions) helped develop confidence that our concerns were being heard and to the extent feasible addressed successfully—knowing ALA and libraries are but one stakeholder and statutes guide Commission action. It is rare that a stakeholder group can claim to be a partner in a rulemaking proceeding. In this instance it is an accurate claim. Though we wavered at times, Chairman Wheeler’s leadership and commitment to addressing all the barriers preventing libraries and schools from attaining the broadband capacity they need made it possible to put faith in the regulatory process.
We are pleased to have the opportunity to recognize the Chairman, the Commissioners, and the staff with a symbolic gesture that we hope captures the magnitude of our appreciation of the effort invested in bringing the Modernization proceeding to a successful close.
“Resolved, that the American Library Association, on behalf of its members:
- extends its deepest appreciation to Chairman Wheeler for his vision for connecting America’s libraries and schools to high-capacity broadband to best serve our communities nationwide.
- recognizes with gratitude Chairman Wheeler and the Commission for their unflagging work throughout the 18-month E-rate Modernization proceeding.”
The Weeks Ahead
While the drama of E-rate modernization is behind us, the more sedate but equally critical work of implementing the changes and getting the word out to library applicants is ongoing. The relationships we built and strengthened within the library community as well as outside remain important. As such, we continue to work on preparing for the 2016 funding year so libraries are fully able to take advantage of the opportunities laid out through the Modernization proceeding. We have continued our relationship with the Commission staff and with USAC and prepared guiding principles to serve as a reference document as we discover ways to partner with these agencies on behalf of libraries.
We are working closely with the Chief Officers of State library Agencies (COSLA) to assess where strong state leadership will have the most positive impact for local libraries. We have connected with the Public Library Association (PLA), the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL), the American Indian Library Association (AILA), the Association of Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (ATALM), and the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) to learn more about the unique challenges their respective members may have, understand how our work can support other efforts underway for the library community, and see where we can make a unique contribution. And of course the E-rate Task Force is working on specific outreach and resources to support the field. The public face of E-rate is quiet at the moment, but rest assured, E-rate never sleeps.
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