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Overview of E-rate

E-rate, also known as Universal Services Schools and Libraries program, is a discount set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) that schools and public libraries receive on telecommunications, internet and internal connections.

The program, started in 1997, underwent a major overhaul and modernization effort in 2014 including the introduction of a five-year pilot program (2015-2019) for libraries to receive discounts on connectivity to devices within buildings and broadband distribution and equipment (Category 2).

ULC staff, our members and a team of leading telecommunications officials developed recommendations for modernizing the program so that larger libraries received additional discounts. Through these efforts, the Category 2 rate was increased from pre-modernization rates of $1 per square foot amount to $5 per square foot for eligible libraries. This has resulted in a significant increase in support for urban libraries and their national effort to ensure digital inclusion and equity for all.

In December 2019, the FCC announced an update on E-rate's Category 2 funding with a new five-year cycle beginning in 2021.

Key points include:

1) An increased cap to $6.52 for urban libraries for 2020 – a transition year between the previous (2015-2019) and next (2021-2025) cycles of funding. This one-year, one-time only increase was available to large urban library systems.

2) A new five-year funding cycle beginning in 2021. Regardless of how much funding has been received to date, all libraries will start with a zero balance.

3) The new five-year (2021 – 2025) funding cap for libraries of all sizes has been set to $4.50 per square foot.

4) ULC advocated for changes to the program which were adopted in 2014, including applying for funding by library system rather than on a per building basis and portability of equipment between locations.

ULC Updates

  • ULC Submits Reply Comments to FCC on Allowing the Use of E-Rate Funds for Advanced or Next-Generation Firewalls and Other Network Security Services

    March 30, 2023
    ULC submitted reply comments to the FCC concerning the eligibility of cybersecurity features and functions for federal E-rate support. ULC urged the FCC to take short term action 1) to extend Category 2 funding to cover firewalls and cyber security needs of all libraries and schools 2) to make this change allowable for the July 1, 2024 funding year and 3) to provide an additional cap for the addition of these allowable expenses within the overall limit of the Universal Service Fund.

  • ULC Signs Petition Advocating for Use of E-rate Funds to Extend Home Internet Access

    January 26, 2021
    ULC joined the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition in petitioning the FCC to allow libraries and schools to extend E-rate funded networks in support of home internet access for students and their families - without cost allocation.

  • FCC Releases New E-Rate Order

    December 3, 2019
    The FCC announced an increased E-rate funding for urban libraries for just one year — 2020. Large library systems are now eligible for an increase to $6.52 per square foot cap.

    The FCC also announced they are making Category 2 funding permanent and starting a new five-year cycle in 2021. At the start of the new cycle, all libraries will receive up to $4.50 per square foot in funding.

  • ​ULC Submits Comments to FCC on E-Rate Funding

    December 12, 2017
    On November 26, 2017, ULC submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission on library E-rate funding, which is under scrutiny by the current FCC leadership. The comments provide insight about how urban libraries are using Category 2 funds and the critical role these funds are playing in local communities around the country. Additionally, the comments point to opportunities for the FCC to improve the existing funding framework and structure.

  • ULC Press Release - Urban Library Patrons and Communities to Benefit from E-Rate Modernization

    December 11, 2014
    The Urban Libraries Council (ULC) applauds the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in their continued modernization of the E-rate fund to support the education technology needs of America. At today’s FCC meeting, the Commission voted to raise the overall cap of the program by $1.5 billion recognizing that our nation’s public libraries and schools must have additional funding to keep up with the growing need for increased Internet connectivity.

  • ULC Press Release - Urban Libraries Council Members Urge E-rate Fixes to Ensure Digital Access

    May 22, 2014
    Members of the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) have called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to level the E-rate playing field to enhance public libraries’ access to funds that will help provide a digital future for all Americans.

    In a letter to the FCC, more than 100 public library systems outlined a case for reform of the E-rate program to meet library needs and ensure proportional distribution of available funds. E-rate is the FCC legislative mandate, established in 1996, to help pay for certain telecommunications and broadband services in libraries and schools. Last year, the FCC launched an overhaul of the E-rate program to address current needs in libraries and schools.