FCC proposes update to help tribal libraries obtain internet services

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to update its E-Rate program to make tribal libraries eligible to participate.

The program helps schools and libraries nationwide obtain affordable, high-speed broadband services and internal connections through discounts that can range from 20% to 90% depending on the cost of eligible services.

Under the current program rules, a "library" is defined as either a public library, a public elementary school or secondary school library, an academic library, a research library or a private library.

Last week, commissioners approved the proposal to update the definition to list tribal libraries in the program rules.

The E-Rate program was established in 1996.

In 2018, Congress amended the Library Services and Technology Act to include tribal libraries under the definition of libraries that are eligible for support from a state library administrative agency, Kate Dumouchel, special counsel with the FCC, said during the commission meeting on Sept. 30.

However, the FCC has yet to change its rules and this has "impeded" the ability of tribal libraries to participate in the program, Dumouchel added.

Commissioner Brendan Carr was among those who mentioned the need to minimize the gap of broadband access on tribal lands and offer such services at affordable rates.

"Indeed, our latest reporting indicates that 21% of people on tribal land lack access to broadband, lagging behind the progress that has been made in other communities," Carr said at the meeting.

The New Mexico State Library lists 19 libraries on tribal and pueblo communities in the state.

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both New Mexico Democrats, commended the commission's decision, stating it reflects their pursuit to increase broadband access for tribes.

The senators pointed to their bipartisan, bicameral bill – Tribal Connect Act – that proposes to include tribal libraries under the E-Rate program as well as establishing a pilot program to invest in broadband access for tribal communities that do not have libraries.

The bill also proposes having libraries at tribal colleges and universities eligible for E-Rate program support.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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