You’re sitting down, right? This Thursday marks the culmination of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate modernization proceeding—18 months in the making. The Commissioners will vote on a landmark E-rate order that addresses the broadband capacity gap facing many public libraries and the long-term funding shortage of the E-rate program. For the American Library Association (ALA) this is a very big deal as we have spent countless hours in meetings, on calls, late-night drafting and revising, cajoling our members for more cost data, and a few times engaging in down-the-hall-tirades during the tensest moments.
For libraries, this vote is a very, very big deal. In July the Commission voted on its first E-rate Order that focused on increasing the Wi-Fi capacity for libraries and schools (among a number of other program changes). At that time, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made a commitment to taking up the outstanding issues, making it clear that the modernization process would be multi-phased. The outstanding issue that matters most for libraries is the lack of high-capacity broadband to the door of the library—because it’s actually just not available or if it is, the monthly cost is much too much. A second issue left open in July was the long-term funding needs of the program.
ALA fought hard to have these issues addressed and on Thursday, the Chairman is living up to his commitment by bringing a second order before the Commission that squarely takes on both, making strategic rule changes and adding (sitting down still?) $1.5 billion to the fund, permanently. We are very pleased.
And how do you celebrate 18 months of work that involved all of our allies (in states spread across the country)? Step one is to join the meeting on Thursday virtually. While all E-rate meetings are interesting, this one will be especially so. The Chairman has invited librarians, teachers, and students to meet with him before the public open meeting so he can hear directly from the beneficiaries of the program on the difference having a library (or school) connected to high-capacity broadband makes.
On behalf of libraries, the Chairman will be joined by Andrea Berstler, executive director, Wicomico Public Library; Rose Dawson, director of Libraries, Alexandria Library; Nicholas Kerelchuck, manager, Digital Commons, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, DC; and Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director, DC Public Library. In addition to meeting with the Chairman, Richard will also present during the Commission meeting. We were pleased to be asked to provide a library perspective and are thrilled to have representatives from a variety of libraries who give the color to why what the Commission is doing will have such positive impact on libraries and the communities they serve.
Join in the fun
A little lighthearted fun at an E-rate meeting? Of course. Play E-rate Bingo online:
When one of the Commissioners or the Chairman says one of the words on your card, mark it out. Use the twitter hashtag #libraryerate to let everyone know when you get Bingo! Since the meeting starts at 10:30 Eastern time, we can’t encourage adult beverages so use chocolate when you hear one of your words. Of course you should also tweet throughout the meeting. Tell everyone what more broadband will mean for your library.
After the meeting, we will still have to wait to see the actual order until the Commission releases it publicly. We are planning a number of outreach activities to help navigate the changes to the E-rate program and to help libraries take advantage of them. The first will be a webinar in collaboration with the Public Library Association. This will be January 8 at 2:00 Eastern. Also, look for a summary of the order once we’ve had a chance to read it!
We’re looking forward to Thursday and the work ahead. So while we’re taking at least a day off to reflect and high-five a little, stay tuned. More is on the way.