Since the E-rate program was established in 1997, the number of public school library media centers (SLMC) with Internet access increased from 14 percent to over 95 percent. While the number SLMC and public libraries that benefitted from the E-rate program has substantially increased, the demand for high-speed Internet access has increased much faster. Recognizing this dilemma, President Barack Obama recently proposed a new initiative, called ConnectED, which will allow the E-rate program to match the increased need for high-speed broadband and wireless Internet access in public libraries and SLMCs. In response, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a radical revamping of the E-rate program, the first since the program was implemented 16 years ago.
The E-rate program, formally referred to as the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, raises funds to be used by public libraries and SLMCs to pay for broadband Internet access. The E-rate program was first established in 1997, when only 14 percent of public school classrooms in the United States had Internet access (Wyatt, 2013). Today, the E-rate program provides 2.3 billion dollars of financial assistance to help more than 95 percent of classrooms connect to the Internet (Wyatt, 2013).
My decision to investigate the E-rate program arose from two recent articles on the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office’s website, District Dispatch: the first reviewed how the federal government shutdown had affected the reply comment deadline for the E-rate program (Wright, 2013d); the second summarized a recent Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition seminar, which took place during the shutdown (Wright, 2013c). At the time of my reading, I was not aware that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the program’s authorizing agent, was reviewing the E-rate program.
I selected this topic for three specific reasons:
1. I do not have any prior knowledge of the E-rate program, and saw the timing of this assignment as an opportunity to learn about the changes associated with the program.
2. The E-rate program applies to public libraries in both rural and urban areas that meet certain criteria based on a variety of factors. If my career path includes a supervisory or management position in a public library, it is important to be aware of the budgetary impacts of the E-rate program.
3. Understanding the political and policy debates surrounding the E-rate program will allow me to better advocate on behalf of government funding for library and information services.
Many school and public libraries are currently receiving financial assistance through the E-rate program. While this program has led to a substantial increase in broadband Internet availability in public libraries and SLMCs, that access is strained due to a variety of technological and practical restraints. As...