ALA Panel on Capitol Hill: Leverage Libraries, E-rate to Improve Tribal, Rural Access to High-Speed Internet

For Immediate Release
Thu, 04/12/2018


Shawnda Hines

Asst. Director, Communications

ALA Washington Office

(202) 628-8410

In a panel hosted by the American Library Association (ALA) on Capitol Hill today, Tribal librarians and rural telecom experts advocated for leveraging the federal E-rate program to improve broadband access in Tribal and rural areas. The discussion, moderated by National Museum of the American Indian Librarian Elayne Silversmith, focused on how broadband connectivity and telecommunications infrastructure in Tribal and rural regions advances education, provides economic opportunity and can close the digital divide. 
"For many people in Tribal and rural areas, the lack of high-speed internet access means that competing in today’s economy is a steep climb and becoming steeper," said ALA President Jim Neal. "Public libraries across America provide internet-enabled technologies and other resources to meet the needs of their communities. And yet Tribal and rural library broadband capacity currently falls far short of the FCC’s benchmarks set for U.S. home access." 
The E-rate program, administered by the Universal Services Administrative Company under direction of the FCC, helps public libraries and K-12 schools obtain affordable broadband. The Tribal Connect Act of 2017 (S. 2205), introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) in December 2017, would expand Tribal lands’ eligibility to participate in the E-rate program.
The panel event, held during National Library Week 2018, was introduced by Sen. Heinrich (D-NM).
"I’m pleased to partner with the American Library Association to convene this important discussion on closing the digital divide in Indian Country and continue building the momentum for the Tribal Connect Act," said Senator Heinrich. "The Tribal Connect Act is an investment in broadband infrastructure and high-speed internet access in Indian Country so all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Connecting more Tribes to the E-rate program will strengthen broadband across rural New Mexico and improve education, boost the economy and increase public safety and civic engagement." 
Neal endorsed the proposed legislation, saying, "Improving access to the E-rate program is a strong start toward improving broadband access to the least connected people in America. The American Library Association wholeheartedly supports the Tribal Connect Act and looks forward to advocating for its passage."
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a long-time champion of the FCC’s E-rate program, also endorsed the legislation in closing remarks. 
"As a longtime champion for the FCC’s E-rate program and a daughter of a retired-librarian," said the Commissioner, "I believe that robust broadband connectivity at community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, helps to level the playing field. For those without home service, access to the information, resources and services needed to thrive in an increasingly digitally dependent society can be a game-changer that generates and enables sustainable social and economic growth. However, data shows that Tribal and rural communities are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to broadband connectivity which is essential when it comes to running businesses, finding jobs, advancing education, accessing telehealth services, or simply paying bills. This is why I wholeheartedly support Senator Heinrich’s efforts to facilitate Tribal participation in the FCC’s E-Rate program in a much-needed effort to jumpstart broadband connectivity in Tribal areas."
The panelists included Cynthia Aguilar, Librarian, Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico; Hannah Buckland, Director of Library Services, Leech Lake Tribal College (Minn.); Irene Flannery, Director of AMERIND Critical Infrastructure; and Kelly Wismer, Public Relations Manager at NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association.