As libraries continue to evolve to serving as technology community hubs in the 21st century, one key ingredient is ensuring there is adequate Internet access service in the building.1 Patrons need and expect to have access to high speed broadband whether they are using their own laptops, tablets and smartphones to use WIFI or whether they are using the library computers.
Now entering its 20th year of providing technology funding to schools and libraries across the country, the E-rate program offers libraries the opportunity to purchase WIFI network equipment and to lease high speed Internet services. In July of 2015, E-rate underwent a major transformation and restructured the program rules to ensure that all schools and libraries will have access to these funding sources. Whereas in previous years, subsidies for equipment purchases were available only to the most impoverished applicants, most libraries were unable to qualify for funds to buy equipment. Beginning in 2015, all applicants now qualify for E-rate equipment funding.
E-rate operates as a discount program and will provide funding for broadband services and network equipment based on the discount percentage multiplied by what is called the “pre-discount amount.” Discounts range from 20 percent to 90 percent and are set based on the local school district’s percentage of students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program.2 Competitive bidding of goods and services is a prerequisite, in order to try to establish the most cost-effective price. Libraries typically qualify for the E-rate discount percentage of their local school district in which their library or the main branch of their library is located.
While some South Dakota libraries are fortunate to already have adequate broadband service, other libraries may have the need and desire to improve and expand their bandwidth. Interested libraries must be willing to filter their Internet access service in accordance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act and to establish an Internet Safety Policy that is available for public comment and then board-approved. Although filtering has First Amendment concerns, many libraries have decided that the filtering requirement is feasible to implement in their community. Libraries that want to utilize E-rate funding but do not yet have filtering in place have plenty of time to take the preparatory steps in order to be able to benefit from E-rate funding beginning July 1, 2018.
In order to ensure sufficient funding is available for all schools and libraries’ network equipment purchases, the program now sets a budget for applicant. Library budgets are set based on their total building square footage multiplied by $2.35. Libraries located in urban areas with a IMLS Locale Code of 11, 12 or 21 (Aberdeen, Rapid City and Sioux Falls) qualify for a square foot amount of $5.12. There is a minimum budget amount of $9,412.80 for very small libraries.
The budget amount is the total amount available for a period of five years, and to determine the amount of E-rate discount funding, multiply the library’s E-rate discount percentage by the amount of the costs of their equipment. Applications for funding must be based on competitively bid prices for services and equipment. The competitive bidding form, known as FCC Form 470, is posted online at the E-rate website. Typically, these forms are posted in the fall or early winter. After accepting bids for 28 days, and upon evaluating and scoring them, the most cost-effective bidder is identified. Then a contract must be signed with the winning bidder but may be made contingent upon E-rate funding approval. This clause ensures that libraries that do not have the money in their budget to pay for the full cost of the equipment are protected against the possibility of being unable to receive their E-rate funding.
Once these steps are completed, the library submits the online application for funding, known as the FCC Form 471. The E-rate administrator is expected to announce the deadline for submitting this form in the fall, and the deadline usually occurs sometime in March.
Libraries that may be interested in learning more about E-rate, including the necessary steps to adopt and implement a filtering policy, are encouraged to contact the South Dakota E-rate Coordinator, Debra Kriete at firstname.lastname@example.org. Debra is a resource to assist the state’s schools and libraries with their E-rate forms and program compliance.
1. See, for example, https://ebookfriendly.com/modern-libraries/ and http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2017/04/eight-recipients-honored-2017-aiaala-library-building-awards
2. The National School Lunch Program has income eligibility guidelines based on a student’s family income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.