Press Release

FCC Expands E-Rate Program to Tribal Libraries

September 30, 2021

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update the definition of library in the E-Rate program rules. This will clarify the eligibility of Tribal libraries, in response to the 2018 update to the definition of libraries contained in the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). By taking this step, the FCC seeks to increase the number of Tribal libraries that are eligible to participate in the E-Rate program. 

The E-Rate program requires, as a condition for participation, that a library be eligible for assistance from a State library administrative agency under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Prior to the 2018 amendment to the LSTA, some Tribal libraries were deemed ineligible by their State library administrative agencies for funding under the LSTA, which had the effect of making them ineligible for E-Rate funding. 

By seeking comment on updating the requirements for eligibility for E-Rate funding to be consistent with the 2018 definition in the LSTA, the FCC takes a step towards improving access on Tribal lands at key community anchor institutions — Tribal libraries. Public Knowledge commends the agency for moving to expand the E-Rate program to ensure more Tribal libraries are eligible to participate in this critical program, furthering our nation’s effort to close the digital divide.

The following can be attributed to Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge:

“As today’s NPRM demonstrates, it can be very hard to change laws once enacted. Here, Tribal libraries, which are key gathering places for residents on Tribal lands, were excluded for over 20 years from participating in the E-rate program — the most consequential program to ensure our schools and libraries had broadband services for their patrons. This exclusion was the consequence of keying eligibility to a definition that proved very hard to change. Public Knowledge applauds Senators Heinrich (D-NM), Murkowski (R-AK), Lujan (D-NM), and other members of Congress for taking up efforts over the years to include Tribal libraries in E-Rate. We also applaud the FCC for moving forward with this item now that the law has changed. Public Knowledge looks forward to providing comments in this proceeding to support the proposal put forward by the Commission.”