E-rate isn’t new news. Established almost 20 years ago (I feel old, and you’re about to too) by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, E-rate provides discounts to assist schools and libraries in the United States to obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access.
What is new news is the ALA initiative Got E-rate? and more importantly the overhaul of E-rate which prompted the initiative- and it’s good news. The best part might well be 1.5 billion dollars added to annual available funding. What that means, in the simplest terms, is new opportunities for libraries to offer better, faster internet. It’s the chance for public libraries of every size to rethink their broadband networks and make gains toward the broadband speeds necessary for library services.
But beyond the bottom line, this incarnation of E-rate has been deeply influenced by ALA input. The Association worked with the FCC to insure that the reform efforts would benefit libraries. So while we can all jump and cheer about more money/better internet, we can also get excited because there are more options for libraries who lack sufficient broadband capacity to design and maintain broadband networks that meet their community’s growing needs.
The application process has been improved and simplified, and if you need to upgrade your library’s wireless network, there are funds earmarked for that purpose specifically.
Other key victories in this reform include:
- Adopting a building square footage formula for Category 2 (i.e., internal connections) funding that will ensure libraries of all sizes get a piece of the C2 pie.
- Suspending the amortization requirement for new fiber construction.
- Adopting 5 years as the maximum length for contracts using the expedited application review process.
- Equalizing the program’s treatment of lit and dark fiber.
- Allowing applicants that use the retroactive reimbursement process (i.e., BEAR form) to receive direct reimbursement from USAC.
- Allowing for self-construction of fiber under certain circumstances.
- Providing incentives for consortia and bulk purchasing.
If you’re interested in learning more, I’d suggest going to the source. But it’s a great Friday when you get to celebrate a victory for libraries everywhere.
To receive alerts on ALA’s involvement in E-rate, follow the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) on Twitter at @OITP. Use the Twitter hashtag #libraryerate