E-Rate and Universal Service
What is Universal Service?
The term Universal Service stems from the Telecommunications Act of 1934, where it was borne out of a drive to make telephone service available to everyone. As of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Universal Service now applies to information services as well, including the Internet, and telecommunications companies are required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which is administrated by the Universal Service Administrative Company.
According to the FCC:
The goals of Universal Service, as mandated by the 1996 Act, are to promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates; increase access to advanced telecommunications services throughout the Nation; advance the availability of such services to all consumers, including those in low income, rural, insular, and high cost areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged in urban areas. In addition, the 1996 Act states that all providers of telecommunications services should contribute to Federal universal service in some equitable and nondiscriminatory manner; there should be specific, predictable, and sufficient Federal and State mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service; all schools, classrooms, health care providers, and libraries should, generally, have access to advanced telecommunications services; and finally, that the Federal-State Joint Board and the Commission should determine those other principles that, consistent with the 1996 Act, are necessary to protect the public interest.
What is E-Rate?
E-rate is the popular name for a far-sighted extension of Universal Service, as authorized by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This federal initiative provides discounts to public libraries and to public and private K-12 schools on telecommunications services, Internet access, and some closely related costs, such as inside wiring. The discounts range from 20% to 90% with the deepest discounts going to those communities with the greatest need based upon the local eligibility levels for participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The E-rate has played a pivotal role in helping libraries connect their users to the Internet. Today, more than 95% of our nation's libraries offer Internet access to the public. This is compared to 1996, when 28% of library systems that offered public access to the Internet in at least one branch. With more than $350 million in discounts since 1998, the E-rate has helped change the public library's information technology landscape.
Important E-Rate Resources & Related
- Summary of Key Changes to the E-rate Program in the Sixth Report and Order (pdf)
- E-Rate Task Force
- ALA's Responses to FCC
- Universal Service Administrative Company's (USAC) Reference Area
- E-rate on District Dispatch, the official ALA Washington Office blog