The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted an order updating the rules for its E-Rate program to clarify that Tribal libraries can access program funding.

In a press release, the FCC says the order updates the definition of “library” in the E-Rate program rules to make clear that it includes Tribal libraries, which the FCC says will resolve “a longstanding issue that limited their access to affordable broadband connectivity through the program.” The E-Rate program, established in 1996, is intended to help schools and libraries obtain affordable broadband service.

Addressing the crux of the issue, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel explained that “in the past, if the Tribal library was not designated as an eligible library by a state agency – a designation that can pose problems of sovereignty – they were unable to participate in the program.” She added, “that means in some of the most rural and remote communities, E-Rate never really got off the ground.”

The FCC said that the adoption of the new order paves the way for Tribal libraries to apply for the E-Rate program application filing window that opened on Jan. 12 and closes on March 22 of this year.

“Two decades of E-Rate investment have helped transform libraries into modern hubs for online life, providing access to education, healthcare, and employment. But for too long, many Tribal libraries have been left out due to limitations in our rules,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

“A new survey conducted by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums reveals that only 12 percent of these essential institutions have ever applied for E-Rate support,” he said. “There are clearly barriers to be removed. Expanding E-Rate’s reach among Tribal libraries is especially important because – as I have seen – these institutions are often the only source of free public internet access in their communities. With that goal in mind, I am pleased to support today’s Report and Order, which will update E-Rate’s definition of ‘library’ to clarify that Tribal libraries are eligible for support.”

To promote awareness of the rule change, the FCC has directed the commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy and the Wireline Competition Bureau, in coordination with the Universal Service Administrative Company, to develop targeted outreach efforts and program training for Tribal libraries. The order also adopts new metrics to gauge the participation of Tribal libraries in the E-Rate program.

“Tribal communities continue to lag too far behind other areas when it comes to connectivity … While every Tribal community has its own set of challenges, the opportunities that come via high-speed Internet connections are part of a shared story,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. “By making it clear that Tribal libraries are eligible under the E-Rate program, as the Order does, we can more effectively support the connectivity needs of Tribal communities.”

Read More About
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs