The FCC has adopted an order providing Tribal libraries and other E-Rate participants enhanced access to funding. The order is designed to enable Tribal libraries and other E-Rate participants to more easily acquire affordable, high-speed broadband services and equipment to connect students and library patrons with online learning opportunities.
The E-Rate program started more than 25 years ago as a federal effort to provide funds to libraries and schools for basic internet connections. Since the inception of the program, the FCC has updated E-Rate from connecting libraries and schools to covering services like installing Wi-Fi throughout the building. In 2022, the regulator amended its definition of library to include Tribal libraries, clarifying that Tribal libraries are eligible to participate in the program.
With the Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted yesterday, the Commission made changes aimed at providing Tribal communities and other E-Rate participants with greater access to the E-Rate program. Details include:
- Providing guidance on cost allocation issues experienced by applicants.
- Granting E-Rate eligibility to Tribal College and University libraries that serve as their communities’ public libraries.
- Creating an exemption to the competitive bidding requirements for libraries seeking E-Rate support for category 2 services that total a pre-discount price of $3,600 or less per library per funding year. These are the services that are the internal connections needed for broadband connectivity within schools.
- Increasing the maximum category two discount rate to 90% and the category 2 funding floor to $55,000 for Tribal libraries. Category two services are internal connections needed for broadband connectivity within schools.
- Adopting a formal definition of “Tribal” within the E-Rate program
- Adding a Tribal community representative to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) Board of Directors.
- Directing USAC to provide increased outreach and training to Tribal applicants.
- Seeking comment on ways to further simplify the E-Rate program for all applicants.
Earlier this year, the FCC adopted other measures to encourage more Tribal participation in the E-Rate program.
Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks issued separate statements about yesterday’s action.