Today, ALA submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to extend the 2016 E-rate application window. This year’s application process has proven challenging, in large part due to the new online filing system, the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC). While the online system has a number of benefits to the applicant, the roll-out of this entirely new system has raised a number of issues that have been difficult for library applicants to overcome.
The Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which administers the E-rate program on behalf of the FCC, has made extra efforts to address issues libraries have come up against. They have dedicated countless staff hours and have increased regular communications and outreach to the library community. Despite these significant extra efforts, issues remain that in some instances have made progress in the application process come to a halt.
With only four weeks left in the current window, we, along with the E-rate Task Force, felt compelled to call attention to the possibility that some libraries would be severely disadvantaged. Given the tremendous opportunity following the FCC’s Modernization proceeding, including funding for Category 2 services, this is an important year for libraries to participate in the E-rate program. There are real opportunities to upgrade old internal networks and to plan for larger upgrade projects.
Change of the magnitude USAC has had to incur will no doubt take time to implement. By extending the application window, we hope the issues that confront libraries can be ameliorated and that the extra time will enable libraries to successfully apply.
We don’t know when the FCC would make a decision, but with the clock ticking, we are hopeful it will be timely. In the meantime, applicants have a host of resources at their disposal. Each state has an E-rate coordinator who is well versed in the intricacies of the E-rate program and works with local libraries in their respective states. The E-rate Task Force recently created an E-rate clearinghouse for libraries, Libraryerate, which is a peer resource sharing portal. Finally the SLD of USAC is the ultimate resource for program rules, forms, and guidance. Their website includes a “File Along with Me” blog with tips for successfully navigating the EPC portal and if you haven’t yet, you can sign up for the weekly News Brief for the latest information.