Take Advantage of E-Rate Funding

The FCC adopted the E-rate Modernization Order [pdf] on July 11, 2014, to expand broadband capacity for schools and libraries. To take advantage of this new phase of the E-rate program, you have to apply. I won’t lie to you, the application process is lengthy, but with a few key resources and some assistance, you can get the broadband your library deserves.

USAC’S E-rate Tools

The United Service Administrative Company (USAC) is an independent, not-for-profit corporation designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the administrator of universal service, including the E-rate program for schools and libraries.

  • Trainings and Outreach — USAC offers webinars (live and archived) for schools and libraries looking to apply for E-rate funding. There’s also a weekly newsletter about the Schools and Libraries Program.
  • Reference Area — This page features links to specific topics that are commonly searched for in the Schools and Libraries Program section of the website.
  • E-rate Productivity Center — This is the account and application management portal for the Schools and Libraries Program. The USAC offers a range of resources — from a glossary to applicant user guides — to help you through the application process.

A One-Stop Shops for All Things E-rate

E-Rate Central covers E-rate news, training, resources, and application tips. E-Rate Central also offers consulting services for applicants, which it describes as an accounting-like service to libraries or schools.

Funds for Learning is another E-rate information site with free resources as well as E-rate consulting services and training.

WebJunction’s E-rate Webinar

WebJunction has so many great learning resources and webinars on a variety of topics. Recently, they did a webinar on the basics of the E-rate program with an overview of the USAC’s E-rate Productivity Center. The event has passed, but you can watch the archive for free.

Other Resources and Information


The map at the top is from a White House infographic on the digital divide in the US, published July 15, 2015, titled “Here’s What the Digital Divide Looks Like in the United States.”


Rural Libraries and the Information Superhighway

I recently came across some troubling news. According to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report released in January, 17{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} percent of all Americans and 53{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of rural Americans do not have broadband access at what it defines as necessary speeds. (See the PDF of the full report.)

Even more startling is that 71{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of Colorado’s rural areas do not have broadband access at necessary speeds. I was shocked to read this. Then I looked to see what the FCC defined as adequate speeds and the picture became even more discouraging.

The FCC defines broadband speeds of 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads as the speeds that are necessary to accommodate increasingly bandwidth-intensive demands like video, which is the dominant broadband application. In fact, video accounts for 63{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of internet downloading and streaming, and streaming a video requires from 5 to 25 Mbps.

The FCC figures that a household needs more than 10 Mbps in order to participate in an online class, download files, and stream a movie at the same time, or to view two high definition videos on separate devices at the same time, or to stream one 4K (aka UltraHD) television service. However, the average American household with children has more than four people using seven Internet-connected devices on a shared, broadband network. Mathematically speaking, 25 Mbps/3 Mbps is barely adequate, and yet most rural households don’t even have access to those speeds.

Rural and urban folks alike want 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband service. When rural Americans have access to this service, they adopt it at the same rate as urban Americans. Yet it’s clear that the deployment of advanced telecommunications services is lagging far behind in rural areas at a time when broadband access is a crucial public utility.

I can’t buy 25 Mbps/3 Mbps in the rural community where I live. The lack of infrastructure for broadband in rural areas and the monopolies held by some internet providers keep rural communities at slower speeds.

So, how do libraries fit into this picture?

Rural libraries are the anchors in our communities. By championing the cause of affordably expanding bandwidth, we help our communities access employment and career information, certification and testing resources, online job applications, skills training, and entertainment.  We get our communities online not just for the sake of promoting access to library resources, but also to establish rural communities as places of technological advancement.

There is an outstanding capacity for innovation in rural America. Folks in rural areas have demonstrated the capacity to imagine the advancements of tomorrow. Rural libraries must be able to equip our communities with the tools they need to bring their ideas from conception to fruition. At a time when access to adequate broadband in rural areas is far below the national average, libraries play an even greater role in providing this necessary infrastructure.