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Down with the divide – support the E-rate program

Close up on a hand on a computer mouse.Librarians know how essential the E-rate has been and will be to meeting their communities’ needs for high-speed, broadband internet service and public access to the internet in the 21st century. That’s why ALA fought hard to create the program and, for the past 18 months, to encourage the Federal Communications Commission to dramatically increase the program’s funding and streamline its application procedures.

Libraries did it! Starting in 2015, an additional $1.5 billion will be available to libraries across the country that they can use to further narrow and ultimately close the digital divide . . . and funds will be easier to apply for.

According to the FCC, the E-rate modernization will make the program more efficient, maximize the use of ratepayer funds, and will provide support for libraries and schools across the country.  An FCC fact sheet notes that “the demand for broadband is growing at least 50% per year, which means that total bandwidth costs will continue to grow even with significant broadband price reductions…Chairman Wheeler’s…$1.5 billion cap increase is consistent with all schools and libraries achieving the long-term goals…because Wi-Fi within every classroom and library space is an essential element of 21st century learning.”

Some Members of Congress have expressed concerns with the FCC action and may not fully appreciate the urgent need in our library community for E-rate modernization. Some have gone as far as questioning the justification of the E-rate program’s existence at all.

Your help is needed to ensure Congress does not overturn the additional E-rate funding for our patrons. We urge you to contact your members of Congress during the December recess and inform them of what services E-rate enables you to supply to your community.

Our message to Congress:

  • Libraries across the country are far behind the broadband capacity they need. A 21st century E-rate program with additional funding will allow libraries to offer state-of-the-art connectivity and critical services to patrons. Many patrons can only access the internet through libraries.
  • The current 20th Century E-rate program has failed to keep pace with inflationary cost increases and has resulted in cost-prohibitive commercially available connectivity. Bringing the program into the 21st Century ensures libraries can secure affordable high-speed connectivity for their patrons.
  • The increasing demands on patrons to connect to the internet – for employment and entrepreneurship, education, community engagement, and individual empowerment – has placed tremendous need for greater bandwidth and faster access.
  • E-rate modernization benefits patrons at libraries of all sizes and in communities across the country, whether urban, suburban, or rural.
  • Please provide Congress with examples of the range of programs and services you offer to patrons benefiting the local community.

We have previously reported on E-rate here and here. Click here to take action now.

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Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the deputy director of government relations at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before coming to the ALA in 2014, Kevin was the vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association for 20 years.

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