In July 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began a proceeding to modernize the E-rate program for the digital age. Over the course of the year-and-a-half review and reform process that followed, ALA engaged in a dedicated effort to make changes to the E-rate program that would help libraries gain access to affordable, high capacity broadband to and within their walls; boost library participation in the program; and increase the efficiency of the application and review process. The purpose of this page is to outline the reform process and ALA’s participation in it, and to help library professionals understand and take advantage of the opportunities the updated E-rate program now offers the library community.
Overview of the Reform Process
The FCC officially launched the process on July 23rd, 2013 by releasing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), a 176-page document asking over 900 questions seeking comments on how to improve the E-rate program. ALA submitted two sets of comments calling for reforms to bring high-capacity broadband to libraries, allow more flexibility for fiber build-out projects, and boost program efficiency:
On March 6th, 2014, the FCC released a Public Notice asking for focused feedback on several issues raised in the NPRM. ALA submitted two sets of comments reiterating the importance of boosting library broadband access and urging adequate funding for internal connections:
On July 11th, 2014, the FCC passed the first of two reform orders, which focused on making Wi-Fi support available to more libraries and schools, streamlining the application and administration of the program, and ensuring the program is cost-effective and efficient. As a follow-up to this first Order, on July 23rd, the FCC released a Further Notice of Public Rulemaking (FNPRM) asking for feedback on questions that remained unaddressed by the first Order, including how to encourage deployment of broadband to the doors of libraries and schools. ALA submitted two sets of comments on the FNPRM, focusing on the need for adequate funding to sustain the program and closing the broadband gap for libraries:
The FCC passed a second reform order on December 11th, 2014, raising the program funding cap from $2.4 to $3.9 billion, and giving libraries and schools more options for deploying high-speed broadband.
Major wins for libraries through the reform process
The reform process yielded several changes that benefit libraries. These 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.
To learn more about the major changes the FCC’s Orders made to the E-rate program, read these summaries prepared by OITP fellow Bob Bocher:
- Summary of Major Changes to the E-rate Program from the July 11 Report and Order (pdf)
- Summary of Major Changes to the E-rate Program from the December 11 Report and Order (pdf)
- Joint library group letter urging planning and collaboration within the library community to ensure robust broadband gains through the E-rate reform process.
- A 2-page overview of the reform process (pdf) and what it means for libraries from ALA OITP.
- The homepage of the E-rate program (from the Universal Service Administrative Company, the non-profit corporation charged with managing the E-rate program).
- The FCC’s homepage for the E-rate modernization proceeding
- The FCC’s summary of the first modernization Order
- The FCC’s summary of the second modernization Order
- ALA priorities for post E-rate modernization
- E-rate archives from District Dispatch (the ALA Washington Office official blog)