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E-rate and Lifeline

Overview of E-rate and Lifeline

E-rate, or 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. ULC staff, our members and a team of leading telecommunications officials developed recommendations for modernizing the program so that larger libraries receive additional discounts on Category 2 services including connectivity to devices within buildings and broadband distribution services and equipment.

Through these efforts the discount rate was increased from pre-modernization rates of $1 per square foot amount to $5 per square foot for eligible libraries. ULC is working closely with our members to ensure that they secure these additional dollars for technology improvements in their libraries.

Recent Updates

  • ​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.

    View ULC's Comments Submitted to the FCC

  • FCC Releases Lifeline Modernization Order

    May 11, 2016
    On April 27, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the FCC Lifeline Modernization Order, which will expand the Universal Service funded Lifeline Program to include broadband subsidies to qualifying low-income households beginning on December 1, 2016. This Order is the first step in a process that will include operational activities, plans and initiatives over the next several months.

    The broadband adoption gap among low-income households has been long-established, but the Lifeline program is the first sustained federal effort to bridge that gap by addressing the monthly cost of service. The Lifeline program was created in 1985 and currently provides a monthly $9.25 subsidy for voice telephone service to over 13 million low-income households.

    While the modernized Lifeline program is targeted toward addressing cost, the FCC recognized that cost is only one barrier to adoption and is also launching a digital inclusion campaign that will accelerate its digital literacy and outreach efforts. Over the next six months, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will develop a Digital Inclusion Plan to address the non-price barriers to broadband adoption. The plan will engage consumer groups, community and philanthropic organizations, local government, and industry stakeholders to explore strategies to increase the availability of affordable service and equipment, digital literacy training, and programming as the Lifeline broadband program is implemented. Opportunities for libraries to contribute and participate will be available.

    Thank you to Connected Nation for providing a summary of the Order. Check the ULC website for future updates.

  • ​USAC Extends the E-rate Filing Period

    April 20, 2016
    On Friday, April 15, 2016, the Schools and Libraries Divisions of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which administers the E-rate program, announced that it will extend the current Form 471 filing window through May 26, 2016. For libraries and consortia, a second window will open to extend the filing window for those two groups until July 21, 2016. This additional window is in recognition of the difficulty libraries and consortia have encountered since they cannot complete their applications until their member/related school district(s) finalize their discount rates in the EPC system.

    While technically there is no deadline for Form 470 (per USAC,) you must file 470 twenty-eight days before selecting a service provider, signing a contract or entering into an agreement for services, or sign or submit an FCC Form 471. This makes June 23, 2016, the final day to file the 470 in this new second round. Applicants will not be disadvantaged if they have not submitted Form 470 yet. USAC’s current analysis shows that there should be sufficient funding for all plausible demand scenarios for FY2016, so filers should not be worried about losing funding as a result of this second window.

    With the new E-rate Processing Center (EPC) filing system, there have been numerous issues preventing applicants from moving forward on their applications. While USAC has continually made efforts to provide updated information and fixes to the EPC system, it has proved challenging for many libraries to accurately finish and file an application in the current timeframe. Library and education groups made many requests to the FCC to extend the filing window so libraries that have had issues with filing could still apply. This is especially important given the funding available for Category 2 services, which has not previously been available in large amounts for the life of the E-rate program. We know that USAC and the FCC both heard the concerns of the library community and responded so that libraries can have access to the available funds.

    Even with the window extension, libraries will still need to work through the application process and solve any continuing issues in their EPC accounts. ULC's weekly calls with USAC will continue on Tuesdays at 2 pm ET through the close of the new window. Also, be sure to sign up for the News Brief from USAC for the latest information. As further information is made available, ULC will update its membership.

  • FCC Reforms Lifeline Program: Lowers Broadband Internet Prices for Low-Income Consumers

    March 31, 2016
    On Thursday, March 31, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to modernize the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Lifeline program. This program was created in 1985 and subsidizes telephone and mobile voice access for low-income Americans. The new rules allow the Lifeline program to offer low-income households a $9.25 a month subsidy for Broadband Internet Access at home or to add a data plan to their cell phones. Households can enroll in the program with a participating provider by demonstrating that their income qualifies at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines and that they subscribe to a voice or mobile service that qualifies to receive Lifeline funds. The discount is applied directly to the bill, the recipients do not receive the funds directly. At present, the Lifeline program provides approximately $1.6 billion per year in voice telephone subsidies. Subsidies for voice service will still be available under the revamped program, but the FCC increased the program budget to $2.25 billion to allow for its expansion to broadband.

    The modernization to revamp the Lifeline program is the most significant initiative ever undertaken by the federal government to promote broadband adoption. It re-orients Lifeline for the broadband era and sets minimum service standards for voice and broadband. Lifeline subscribers will be able to take full advantage of the many benefits reliable Internet access can bring – from jobs to education to healthcare – at speeds that allow them to fully participate.

    As libraries know, providing fast, reliable broadband is a must in the digital age. Libraries provide free and open access to technology, but they cannot provide the access needed to fully participate in today’s society as they are not open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Reforming this program to include broadband is an important step in connecting all Americans.

    The full Order will not be released for a few weeks, but it is important to note the FCC stated that "The order recognizes that although cost is the primary barrier to broadband adoption, increasing digital inclusion means more than just addressing the affordability of broadband service. The order will therefore require Lifeline providers to make available Wi-Fi enabled devices when providing devices with the Lifeline service, and requires Lifeline mobile broadband providers to make available hotspot access. It also directs the bureau to develop a digital inclusion plan that will bring together a variety of stakeholders to determine how Lifeline can best be used to close the digital divide." Libraries are important stakeholders in working to close the digital divide and they look forward to being a part of the discussions.

  • The White House Launches ConnectALL Initiative

    March 16, 2016
    Last week, President Obama announced the ConnectALL Initiative, the Administration's effort to connect 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020. This Initiative was unveiled to help Americans at every income level get online and have the tools necessary to take full advantage of the Internet. Libraries have always played a critical community role in offering low-income residents access to information and are developing innovative programs to help close the digital divide. ULC is excited about the opportunities the ConnectALL Initiative provides.

    A number of partnerships and projects were announced as a result of the Initiative including the Community Connectivity Initiative. This tool was developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NITA) BroadbandUSA program to support and accelerate local broadband planning efforts. The tool will create a comprehensive online assessment to help community leaders identify critical broadband needs and connect them with expertise, tools, and resources for overcoming the challenges to expanded broadband deployment and adoption. As part of the initial rollout ULC Library Members in Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Greenbelt, MD (Prince George’s County) and Kansas City will be afforded the opportunity to collaborate on the Initiative, being the first in the country to utilize the assessment tool.

    This assessment is similar to the effort that ULC’s Edge Initiative undertakes with libraries. ULC has been involved in the development of this effort in collaboration with leading library and government organizations—including shaping the self-assessment, sharing insights on recommendations and engaging their members.

    The ConnectAll Initiative incorporates additional efforts including:

    • The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are collaborating on a Digital Literacy Pilot Project as part of a national service effort to increase digital literacy skills.
    • In order to promote the reuse of equipment no longer needed by the federal government, the General Services Administration (GSA) will lead an inter-agency effort to re-engineer the Computers for Learning program to expand access to devices for more organizations that help provide digital literacy and training for low-income Americans.
    • Cox Communications will host more than 200 events across the nation for low-income K-12 families, automatically qualifying attendees for its low-cost broadband option as part of the effort to increase private sector delivery of affordable connectivity.
    • To increase access to resources to support digital inclusion efforts under way in communities across the country, later this year the Administration will convene leaders in the philanthropic, non-profit, and private sectors to a summit.

    In addition, the President issued a new Issue Brief released by the Council of Economic Advisers that outlines how being offline is more than inconvenient and creates specific economic costs, especially for job-seekers unable to access online job search tools. As ULC members know, because of a digital divide, low-income Americans have a harder time accessing these tools, and unemployed workers without home Internet access take a longer time to find employment.

    Lastly, NTIA, on behalf of the Administration, is filing comments in support of the FCC’s effort to reform its Lifeline program to address the way people communicate in the 21st century. When Lifeline was first created, it was designed to provide low-income Americans with financial assistance to purchase affordable phone service, so the most vulnerable Americans were connected to the rest of the country. Modernizing the Lifeline program that the FCC is currently proposing, will allow low income Americans to obtain a subsidy to help close the broadband affordability gap, moving thousands of people online.

    ULC is following the ConnectALL efforts closely. For more information, follow any of the above links for specific program details.

  • An E-rate Clearinghouse for Libraries

    March 3, 2016 is an E-rate clearinghouse for libraries. It acts as a one-stop shop for information on the modernized E-rate Program. The ALA E-rate Task Force (ERTF), comprised of state E-rate Coordinators, developed this site to be an aggregator of and home for resources to assist libraries in understanding and better utilizing E-rate funding. The website includes weekly updates on the E-rate Central News for the Week as well as contacts and various links to resources to help you file and utilize E-rate.

    View for updates and resources

  • ​Stay Informed on the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC)

    February 17, 2016
    ULC has been working closely with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to ensure that ULC members applying for E-rate funding and using EPC for the first time are not encountering issues when applying. USAC hosted a webinar on the EPC on Thursday, February 11, 2016 for ULC members. In addition, the Schools and Libraries Division at USAC has set up a weekly conference call with libraries to be held every Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 – 2:30 PM ET through the close of the FCC Form 471 filing window at the end of April. USAC is using these calls to get a sense from the ULC members about specific issues that they have experienced or heard about with EPC such as navigation challenges, online forms, access issues, etc. USAC will use this feedback to improve their outreach efforts and make the application process more accessible. The State E-rate Coordinators also participate on these calls.

    In addition, the Schools and Libraries Division is also holding weekly webinars on the completion of Form 471 over the next few weeks:

    • How to complete basic and entity information specific to libraries and consortia on February 23 and 25, 2016
    • How to complete funding requests for Category 1 and 2 services on March 3 and 5, 2016
    • How to understand and complete the Form 471 certifications section on March 10. 2016

    Learn more about USAC's Form 471 trainings

  • USAC Announces 2016 E-rate Filing Schedule

    January 27, 2016
    The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) announced Monday that the window for filing E-rate applications for Funding Year 2016 will open February 3, 2016 at noon and close April 29, 2016 at 11:59:59 EDT. This window of 87 days is approximately two weeks longer than the usual window. USAC stated that the reason for the extended filing period is that the migration to the new E-rate information technology system and forms will most likely present some challenges to the users. They also state that they would love to get feedback on any of the issues users may be having.

    ULC is working with USAC on the transition to ensure its members have the most up-to-date information and that problems can be resolved quickly.

  • USAC Updates 2016 Filing Schedule

    January 4, 2016
    The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) has announced that the window application dates for E-rate funding should be in mid-January, depending on the roll-out of the new EPC system. USAC is stating that the window will open no later than January 20 and close no earlier than March 31. They encourage everyone who plans on submitting this year to post the FCC Form 470 and complete your competitive bidding process to ensure that you are ready to complete From 471 when it becomes available. ULC encourages everyone to sign up to receive the SL Program News Brief, a newsletter distributed by USAC's Schools and Libraries Division.

  • ULC Submits Comments to FCC in Support of Lifeline Reform

    September 2, 2015
    On Monday, August 31, ULC filed comments with the FCC in support of Lifeline Reform. The proposed reform will expand the federal low-income discount paid for telecommunication services to cover broadband services. In the letter, ULC commends the FCC for: 1) recognizing how broadband services and technologies can transform the lives of community members and 2) launching this proceeding to reorient the Lifeline program for the 21st century. In addition, 29 libraries (nearly all ULC members) from 18 states submitted a letter in support of the proposed reform. ULC is closely following the ongoing reform process. Continue to check e-News Weekly and the ULC website for updates.

    Read ULC's Letter in Support of Lifeline Reform

    Read letter submitted by public libraries in support of lifeline reform

  • Updates on 2015-16 E-rate Application Cycle

    June 10, 2015
    Applications for 2015-16 were due on April 16, 2015. The FCC has noted that schools and libraries have responded to the FCC's E-rate reforms by seeking a total of $3.9 billion in support, including more than $1.6 billion for internal Wi-Fi networks (Category 2). This was an increase in applications for Category 2 funding of 92% from previous years and the first time in three years that the requests will most likely be funded. ULC has formed two Working Groups, CIPA and IT Network Structure, to ensure all of our libraries can apply in 2016-17.

    Read chairman wheeler's blog post on the 2015-16 E-rate applications

    Four informative charts outlining E-rate reform

  • ULC, Other Library Associations Join Together to Encourage Libraries to Apply for E-rate Funds

    April 21, 2015
    The Urban Libraries Council, along with the American Indian Library Association, the American Library Association, the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, & Museums, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, and the Public Library Association are committed to helping libraries fully benefit from the recent E-rate program changes. They recently wrote a letter that urges libraries of all types to apply for the $1.5 billion in additional E-rate funds and help achieve the goal of doubling E-rate investments in America’s libraries. In preparation for the 2016 application cycle, these organizations are taking stock of some of the challenges that lie ahead and developing new resources and approaches to help libraries navigate the changes and, most importantly, use them to their advantage. Each organization is committed to making the “new E-rate” work. Continue to consult E-rate section of the ULC website for the most recent information.

    Read the joint letter (PDF)

  • USAC Extends 2015 E-rate ​Application Filing Deadline to April 16, 2015

    March 12, 2015
    On Thursday, March 12, 2015 the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) extended the FY2015 E-rate application filing window by three weeks, with the new deadline set for April 16, 2015. FCC Form 471 applications must be submitted on or before 11:59:59 pm EDT on Thursday, April 16, 2015 to be considered in-window. Read the USAC News Brief for full details on the extension.

  • FCC Votes to Increase E-rate Funding in December Open Commission Meeting

    December 11, 2014
    On December 11, 2014, the FCC approved a $1.5 billion increase in annual funding for the E-rate program from $2.4 to 3.9 billion. The E-rate Modernization Order was approved in a 3-2 vote in an Open Commission Meeting which featured testimonials from library and school representatives from across the country, including Executive Director of the D.C. Public Library Richard Reyes-Gavilan.

    Further, the FCC addressed the importance of providing adequate Wi-Fi services to the country’s residents who reside in urban and suburban communities and rely on the public library as their only source of Internet connectivity. The increased funding will help eligible libraries enhance their Wi-Fi networks by allowing them to apply for the program at a rate of $5 per square foot of building space, a significant gain from the $1 per square foot rate proposed earlier in the year. By providing increased funding for Wi-Fi service to the library systems that serve the greatest share of the U.S. population, the FCC recognizes the critical need for connectivity in the 21st century and the library’s role in meeting this need.

    View the FCC meeting recording, agenda and supporting documents

  • ULC Submits Ex Parte Filing to FCC on E-Rate Qualifications

    December 3, 2014
    On November 28, 2014, ULC submitted an Ex Parte Filing with the FCC on behalf our members. The filing applauded the FCC's recognition of the unique funding needs that large city libraries encounter to provide robust WiFi services in their communities, but asks that the FCC consider a definition of those that qualify for increased funding based on WiFi utilization rates to fund those who need it most. We further state that if the FCC choses to use population as the measurement, that they expand it to beyond the largest library systems to include larger systems that serve the majority of WiFi users. ULC will be following the E-Rate news closely and look forward to the outcomes of the FCC meeting on December 11.

    Read ULC's ex parte letter to the FCC

    Read an analysis of selection criteria proposed in the ex parte filing

  • ​FCC Chairman Wheeler Announces Plan to Increase E-rate Funding

    November 19, 2014
    On Monday, November 17, 2014, FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler announced his plan to take the next step in the E-rate modernization process. Wheeler’s proposal outlines a plan to increase the annual E-rate cap by $1.5 billion, increasing the budget from $2.4 to 3.9 billion. According to the FCC, the increase would allow for greater investment in high-speed network infrastructure, particularly fiber optic cabling, to meet the demands of expanding Wi-Fi connectivity in libraries and schools. The improved data infrastructure would increase high speed access in rural and low income communities that struggle to support the demands of modern connectivity and bandwidth goals. The growth will be a combination of payments for costly one-time non-recurring infrastructure upgrades and increasing monthly recurring charges for Internet access. The FCC believes this will increase each phone bill by just less than $2 per year.

  • ​ULC Research on E-rate Filed with FCC

    September 24, 2014 
    Last week, ULC filed new research on large library systems with the FCC. The report shows the largest 5% (by size or by usage) of library systems support 63% of total Wi-Fi users in public libraries. For these large systems, square footage alone is not an equitable predictor of Wi-Fi costs.The study, commissioned by ULC and undertaken by a Stanford University researcher, is based on data collected by the Institute of Museum and Library Services on public libraries and has been shared with them.

    ULC is urging the FCC to better understand not just the largest public library systems, but the needs across all public libraries - urban, suburban, towns and rural communities. In addition to the research, our filing asks the FCC to consider what is needed to create an E-Rate system that serves all libraries no matter size or location.

    ULC strongly believes equitable access to adequate E-Rate funds across all types of public libraries is essential to building healthy communities across the United States. Read the letter (PDF) from Susan Benton, ULC president and CEO, that was part of the filing.

  • Governor Pens Letter to Obama Urging E-Rate Support

    September 24, 2014
    Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy recently wrote President Obama to thank him and the FCC for the recent order involving the modernization of E-Rate.

    In regards to the upcoming FCC proceeding, Malloy noted that E-rate is a "topic of equality and opportunity." Further, Malloy wrote, "My goal for Connecticut is to ensure that robust Internet access is available to every student and teacher in every school and to every person in every library. Internet access in our schools and libraries should be as reliable and fast as in businesses and homes on the leading edge of Internet connectivity. Specifically, I would like to see one gigabit per second connectivity to every school and library building, and at least five megabit per second Wi-Fi connectivity in every room in these buildings at time of peak use.

    Malloy adds, "In addition, I would like to see every school and library connected to each other, so that they can share digitized material." Read the letter here (PDF).

  • ULC Urges FCC to Ensure Universal Broadband for Public Libraries

    June 9, 2014
    As the process to modernize the U.S. E-Rate program continues, ULC has submitted a letter to the FCC underscoring two critical points. The first, “Public Libraries = Education” affirms the essential role of the library as a 21st century educational institution and points out that libraries have been the fundamental “go-to” institution in recent years for job seekers of all ages and occupations. The second point, “Connectivity for All Public Libraries – No Matter the Location,” emphasizes that all public libraries require immediate and comprehensive support in acquiring broadband connectivity.

    ULC e-Rate Letter to FCC

    Document A: Library Systems Consist of Urban, Suburban and Rural Libraries 

  • ULC Members Urge E-Rate Fixes to Ensure Digital Access

    May 21, 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.

    ULC member letter to FCC

  • FCC E-Rate Modernization Workshop

    May 11, 2014 
    If you were unable to attend or live stream this event in DC, we encourage our public library colleagues to listen in and continue the E-Rate conversation.

    Podcast (04:34:10) 

  • ULC Recommendation/Filing

    April 21, 2014
    ULC submitted its reply to the FCC on E-Rate. A two page summary at the beginning of this document provides a snapshot of ULC's comments.

    ULC Filing # 4

  • IMLS Hearing on Modernizing E-Rate

    April 17, 2014

    IMLS hosted a public hearing, “Libraries and Broadband: Urgency and Impact,” to examine the need for high-speed broadband in America’s libraries. Current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler and Reed Hundt, former FCC Chairman, offered persuasive analyses of what needs to be done to modernize the nation’s E-Rate program so that all citizens have equitable access to technology as a means of education and productive lives. The Benton Foundation distilled their presentations into these cogent summaries that can be used as talking points for local and national advocacy efforts

    FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler

    Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt

  • ULC Recommendation/Filing

    April 7, 2014 
    ULC submitted a filing to the Federal Communications Commission with refined recommendations for strengthening the U.S. E-Rate program so that public libraries remain “the primary free public Internet access point in civil society.”

    ULC Filing #3

  • ULC E-Rate Fact Sheet

  • New America Foundation Forum Podcast Co-sponsored by Urban Libraries Council

  • ​Politico Pro, an Online News Magazine

    Article by Caitlin Emma
    12/02/13 5:05 AM EST

    Libraries Angle for Bigger Role in E-Rate