For immediate release | July 20, 2023

ALA, ATALM applaud FCC Report and Order to support Tribal, small and rural library E-rate applicants

The American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) applaud the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) advancement of the “Improving the E-rate Rules and Processes for Tribal Applicants” Order. The effort will make it easier for Tribal libraries, as well as other small and rural libraries, to participate in the E-rate program.

“ALA has been a leading voice to improve Tribal library inclusion in E-rate for more than a decade. Today’s vote and Order is a huge accomplishment for our library advocates and an important step in advancing equity and access for Tribal libraries, as well as other small and rural libraries who desperately need affordable connectivity. We applaud the FCC’s efforts on this Order,” said ALA President Emily Drabinski.

“Several of the key changes are an outcome of feedback from ATALM members, including making Tribal college libraries eligible if they also serve the public, simplifying the application process and providing exemptions to the competitive bidding rules,” said ATALM President and CEO Susan Feller.

The proposed changes address some of the barriers that prevent Tribal libraries from participating in the E-rate program, including an overly complicated application process. This order and further notice of proposed rulemaking build upon an earlier notice of proposed rulemaking from this spring. ALA, along with others in the field, responded with information and examples detailing the need to simplify program requirements and allow Tribal college libraries who serve their public communities to be eligible for E-rate.

“Here in Maine, we know the value of well-connected libraries in our rural communities and the critical role the E-rate program has played to get the majority of our public libraries up to 1 gigabit through the Maine School and Library Network. The changes voted on today will allow tribal libraries to reap the same benefit from the program and we hope Maine’s tribes are able to take full advantage of this long overdue opportunity,” said Lori Fisher, Maine State Librarian. “The complexity of Category Two funding has been a roadblock for our smallest rural libraries, meaning that the gigabit stalls out at the library door. We look forward to program roadblocks being addressed in the Further Notice and appreciate that the Commission is seeking additional input from the field.”

“We appreciate that the FCC is listening to Tribal librarians and acting on recommendations received. We look forward to facilitating more listening sessions in the months ahead,” said Feller.

The FCC, ATALM, and ALA will jointly hold a webinar on Thursday, August 10 at 2 p.m. (ET) to review updates to the E-rate program for Tribal applicants and others interested in understanding the new guidelines. More information can be found via the registration link. Additionally, ALA is monitoring next steps and will provide the FCC additional information on proposed changes to simplify and streamline the E-rate application process for all Tribal, small, and rural libraries. ALA will also develop resources to support libraries, especially first-time E-rate applicants, navigate the process for funding and working within the program.

“E-rate is an essential program for libraries to bring high-speed internet access to their communities. Creating opportunities to simplify, streamline and further clarify the process and rules will build capacity and encourage more small, rural and Tribal libraries to apply,” said Drabinski.

The E-rate and Tribal libraries notice is one of many proposals circulating at the FCC that would benefit libraries. FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced Learn Without Limits last month at ALA’s Annual Conference in Chicago, which would make hotspots lending and school bus Wi-Fi eligible under E-rate. The third phase of Learn Without Limits would create funding under the Universal Service Fund, separate from E-rate, for network security for schools and libraries.


Shawnda Hines

Deputy Director, Communications

Public Policy and Advocacy Office