ALA calls for leap forward in E-rate goals; streamlined program

For Immediate Release
Wed, 09/18/2013

Contact:

Jazzy Wright
Press Officer
Washington Office
202-628-8410
jwright@alawash.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, the American Library Association (ALA) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to accelerate deployment of the high-capacity broadband needed to serve students and learners of all ages through our nation’s libraries and schools. ALA calls for new strategic investments in telecommunications and broadband infrastructure, as well as program changes to improve cost-effectiveness and streamline processes to enable greater participation.

America’s 16,417 public libraries serve more than 77 million computer users each year, yet only half of these multi-user outlets offer Internet speeds above the FCC’s home broadband recommendation of 4 Mbps. Through these Internet connections, libraries support the education, employment and e-government resources and services all increasingly moving to “the cloud.”

“The nation is facing a sea change in what robust technology infrastructure can enable, and libraries are perfectly positioned to light the way forward and ensure no one is excluded from digital opportunity,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling. “America’s libraries must move from basic connectivity to high-capacity broadband so our students and our communities can compete globally. The E-rate program is essential for fulfilling this digital promise.”

Culminating two months of intensive review and research, the ALA’s response to the FCC’s most comprehensive E-rate proceeding since the program’s 1997 inception acknowledges this enormous opportunity for advancing the E-rate program. Monday’s filing also aligns with President Obama’s ConnectED goal to connect America’s students through libraries and schools to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years.

The ALA calls for new E-rate funding to jumpstart and sustain high-capacity and high-speed Internet connections that support digital learning and economic development through libraries and schools. The current funding cap on the program consistently falls far short of meeting basic demand for Internet-enabled education and learning services, and technology trends clearly show needs and future capabilities only are growing. To address this, ALA supports a two-pronged approach: 1) New temporary funding is needed to support the build-out of high-capacity broadband networks and especially provide increased support for libraries with the lowest levels of broadband connectivity. 2) A permanent increase in funding is not only justified but is a sound investment for the country.

“Current funding does not reflect the economic reality faced by libraries and schools as they try to upgrade their broadband services,” said Emily Sheketoff, director of the ALA Washington Office. “This FCC proceeding provides an important opportunity to add more funding to the program and increase the value of the program to libraries, schools and our communities.”

ALA’s comments also encourage the FCC to:

  • Provide additional E-rate discounts for remote rural libraries that often confront  the greatest broadband costs;
  • Streamline the E-rate’s application review process to incent consortium purchasing and replace E-rate program procurement rules with those of the applicable locality or state;
  • Lower barriers to deployment of dark and lit fiber and ownership of wide area networks when they are the most cost-effective ways to deliver high-capacity broadband to libraries and schools;
  • Work in cooperation with the library and schools communities to develop scalable bandwidth targets and benchmarks for measuring progress against these targets; and
  • Eliminate the Form 470 and allow applicants to file an “evergreen” Form 471 for multi-year contracts.

“We commend the FCC Commissioners on their thoughtful and thorough invitation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the E-rate program,” said Marijke Visser, assistant director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. “Today’s filing is clearly only the first step to an E-rate 2.0, and we look forward to engaging in the process over the coming months.”

About the American Library Association
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the ALA is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

American Library Association