After checking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website several times each day between July 11 when the Commission adopted an Order in the E-rate Modernization proceeding and when it was released to the public on July 23, things have been remarkably quiet in E-rate land while we are all nose deep reading the 117 pages of changes to the program (176 total pages). In the Washington Office our copies are dog-eared with ink in the margins, and many phrases underlined or marked “?” but we have started to pull themes together to understand how the changes will impact libraries. We are pleased to see that many of ALA’s recommendations have indeed been adopted–testament to the hard work we asked of our members, especially the E-rate Task Force, as well as those of the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). We also gained valuable insight from the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) and the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). The Order represents a full year of consistent effort on the part of the Commission and stakeholders alike, hours of discussions and negotiations, but it is not the end of the modernization efforts.
The Order includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) which asks for specific input on issues the Commission feels could benefit from additional detailed information from the public. Most importantly for ALA’s ongoing effort to address the continued lack of high-capacity broadband are the questions in the FNPRM that discuss the future funding needs for the E-rate program. The Commission opened the door for a full investigation into the gap between the current level of connectivity to libraries and schools and the capacity goals adopted in the Order. This will, in part, determine realistic costs on which to base the “right size” of the fund. At the same time we plan to continue our call for specific emphasis on those libraries that are furthest behind the gigabit goals as we continue to see the modernization effort as an opportunity to make a significant dent in the broadband shortfall 66% of libraries still report.
In the meantime while we prepare for the FNPRM, the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) Fellow, Bob Bocher, prepared a summary (pdf) of the Order which gives an overview of the major changes to the program and references the relevant paragraphs in the Order to provide necessary context for each change or modification. In addition to the summary, we encourage you to go to the USAC website where there is a dedicated page to the most up to date information concerning the E-rate modernization proceeding.
FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, called on ALA to stay engaged in the coming months of the modernization effort. We plan to do just that. The Washington Office will continue its work at the Commission and with the library community as we begin the next phase.