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E-rate cookies and the future of library broadband

So for those E-rate junkies, ALA’s big accomplishment last week was submitting its comments to the FCC on the current E-rate proceeding that, I’m sure you know by now, scrutinizes virtually every major (and a number of not so major) aspects of the E-rate program. This proceeding is a significant opportunity to take a hard look at this program through a 21st century lens–acknowledging the firm foundation the program has provided for libraries, and more importantly creating a vision for the program that moves library connectivity beyond basic and toward the broadband required for today, and the next 15 years.

At my house when you accomplish something big, we make cookies. Then we sit around and talk about how great it is to be done, how hard it was to get done, how terrible it was to get from point A to point B, how plans changed and you had to start almost from the beginning, how you couldn’t hang out with friends because you had to work on this crazy project…and wow! I can’t believe it’s finally finished!

This is what I thought about after hitting the submit button on September 16 and on my way home. And it’s what I thought about while mixing a batch of celebratory cookies. Here it goes:

NPRM Cookies

In this proceeding we hope to accomplish three specific things. First, our comments focus on securing high-capacity broadband for libraries (nothing new really). Next they address issues that could encourage applicants to be cost effective and future thinking as they develop their broadband solutions (somewhat new). We also propose jumpstarting the program by investing immediately to support broadband build-out, especially for the libraries with the lowest levels of connectivity and to permanently increase the funding cap so that these investments can be sustained (new, and a bold but desperately needed step).

What I needed to complete on the evening of the 16th was a batch of cookies worthy of all the E-rate and universal service lectures I subjected my family to for the past two months. And yes, they know what “direct payment to the applicant” is and what it means to be “a remote rural library.” They also know why they can use their mobile devices at school and why the school Wi-Fi is slow in certain parts of the building.

  • ½ pound butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions: Start with a traditional, firm foundation on which to build something new, but something that will be successful and meet the needs of your constituents (libraries or demanding children, either one). The basic structure of the E-rate program has been successful over the years. The program, however, has become somewhat unwieldy and overly complex and it is important to balance program rules and oversight with the application process so that USAC, the program administrator, can ensure the funds are used appropriately and program applicants can apply for and receive funding for the telecommunications services they need. As with any program, there is usually room for improvement, based on years of experience on the ground throughout the E-rate application cycle.

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
  • ¾ cup oats
  • ¼ cup wheat germ or wheat bran
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

This NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the long name for the current proceeding) looks at the current structure of the program to identify areas that, if tweaked according to our recommendations, could yield a more efficient program while making the applicant experience better. Some of the changes we propose will result in an E-rate program that focuses finite resources on the most critical infrastructure needs for libraries. We do, however, caution the FCC to implement changes with minimal disruption or burden for the applicant.

Add (Here you can be creative but remember you should aim for about 1 ½ cups of yummy things to add):

  • ½ cup nuts of your choice (I used left over trail mix which had cashews, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and peanuts)
  • ½ cup total raisins and/or dried cranberries
  • ½ cup chocolate chips or broken up chocolate bars

At the same time, the NPRM invites stakeholders to be innovative at a time when our communities, our students, and our nation has much to lose by continuing in a ‘this is what we have always done’ manner and much to gain by focusing the E-rate program on advancing sustainable investments in broadband. We have been asked to think about how to structure a telecommunications program that incents libraries (and schools) to think big, to plan for technology needs that support the types of learning and applications that we did not think about 15 years ago and that we have not yet envisioned for the next 15. Some of the proposals ALA put forward are far-reaching and will require careful planning for successful implementation. We believe the strength of the E-rate program lies in its original purpose of connecting libraries and schools to advanced telecommunications services, but that to move beyond basic connectivity, the program should align with services and models that promote high-capacity solutions.

  • Use a large spoon to drop cookies onto greased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 9-10 minutes, careful not to over bake.

Between now and October 16 when reply comments are due, we will read submitted comments, refine some of our initial thoughts, gather additional information and data, and collaborate with our library stakeholders. For those of you interested in learning more, consider taking advantage two upcoming events. On October 1 the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) will hold a seminar on the E-rate proceeding, in-person or webcast. On October 7, the National Telecommunications &Information Administration (NTIA) holds a workshop on ConnectED. This reply period is not the end of the proceeding and our work will continue until the FCC issues an order (and when might that be, you ask). Have a cookie and stay tuned.

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Marijke Visser

Marijke Visser is the associate director and senior policy advocate at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. She is involved in all stages of Libraries Ready to Code, E-rate, and Connect Home projects. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Peace and Global Studies/Sociology and Anthropology from Earlham College in Indiana. Before joining the ALA in 2009, Marijke earned her master’s in Library and Information Science from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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