ALA urges swift action on E-rate reforms

For Immediate Release
Thu, 11/07/2013

Contact:

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

Residential-level bandwidth unacceptable for modern library services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Library Association urges the Federal Communications Commission to swiftly reform the federal E-rate program so that our nation’s learners are connected to high-capacity broadband through libraries and schools. In reply comments filed (PDF) with the Commission today, the ALA reaffirmed its earlier call to increase available funding and simplify the application process.

The average public library has about the same connectivity as the average home—limiting libraries’ ability to serve communities’ education, employment and e-government needs. With an average of 16.4 public computers and more than 40 percent of libraries with maximum Internet speeds of less than 4 Mbps speeds or less, we are falling behind.

“High-capacity broadband drives innovation and underpins modern library services in public and school libraries,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling. “As we make a massive transition from physical to digital collections, boost wireless access and deploy digital media creation labs, a robust and future-focused E-rate program is vital for supporting our nation’s learners. We cannot afford to dumb-down services due to bandwidth limitations.”

ALA proposes two limited-term programs that build on President Obama’s ConnectED initiative—ConnectUS and FINAL. These catalytic initiatives are intended to address the greatest barriers to increasing bandwidth: access and cost. ConnectUS would jumpstart high-capacity connections to libraries and schools where such broadband is not currently available. Fast Internet Networks for All Libraries (FINAL) is a pilot proposal for communities where high-capacity connections are available, but the library lacks the funding and/or technical expertise to realize major broadband upgrades.

In addition to encouraging the Commission to follow through on the President’s ConnectEd initiative, ALA continues to push for a streamlined program that benefits the greatest number of applicants while using the funds effectively and efficiently. The Commission can move swiftly to make these changes:

  • Allow direct payment to applicants
  • Encourage multi-year contracts
  • Treat dark fiber on par with lit fiber
  • Recognize and better support the additional costs incurred by rural applicants for broadband connectivity

ALA opposes the use of E-rate funds to pay for end-to-end connectivity at home or elsewhere outside the library or school grounds. While such broadband capacity is needed, such services are better placed in other parts of the Universal Service Fund, not in the already well-oversubscribed E-rate program.

“The ALA is gratified by the outpouring of comments in this proceeding highlighting the importance of the E-rate program to providing the educational technology our students and learners need for 21st century digital opportunity,” said Marijke Visser, assistant director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. “We also note the broad recognition that demand vastly outpaces current available funding. With all Commissioners now in place, the FCC should not delay in making necessary reforms, especially considering Chairman Wheeler’s strong support for the E-rate program.”

American Library Association