Kentucky public libraries recently set a new record for funding commitments from Education Rate (E-rate), a federal program that provides discounts on Internet, telecommunications, and networking equipment for schools and public libraries. For the July 2016 to June 2017 funding year, Kentucky public libraries have a record commitment for $2,083,104 in E-rate funding to be disbursed as they are invoiced for eligible products and services. This is the highest commitment for E-rate funding for Kentucky’s libraries since the program’s inception in 1998.
E-rate discounts provide critical budget relief to public libraries and allow them to spend local tax dollars on other services and programs in their communities. A library’s E-rate funding amount is determined by the area’s poverty level.
Each year, the majority of the state’s public libraries apply for discounts through E-rate that help ensure comparable levels of connectivity nationwide. They complete a competitive bidding process to drive down costs and request 50 to 90 percent discounts based on the poverty level of the local school district. On average, Kentucky public libraries receive an 80 percent discount on Internet, phone service, mobile hotspots for bookmobiles, and upgrades or maintenance for networking equipment such as routers, switches, and wireless access points.
Because filing for the E-rate discounts can be a lengthy and sometimes difficult process for librarians, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) has provided extensive training in filling out the required forms and one-on-one consultations to librarians since the program’s inception.
“The agency has devoted more resources to E-rate assistance in recognition of greater opportunities and increasing complexity in the application process,” said Terry Manuel, State Librarian and Commissioner for KDLA. “To date, more than $13.7 million in E-rate discounts has been disbursed to Kentucky public libraries.”
Kentucky public libraries also set two new participation records; 103 libraries filed for discounts, up 12 percent compared to the record set last year, and 34 libraries requested networking equipment discounts, up 17 percent.
Manuel praised the efforts of Kentucky’s E-rate libraries. “Nationwide, the number of library applications dropped from FY 2015-16 to FY 2016-17, so Kentucky public libraries’ growth and success with the E-rate program is even more impressive.”
“E-rate has been a boon to the Crittenden County Public Library,” said Library Director Regina Merrick. “As a small, rural county, we receive a large portion of our Internet and telephone service. Therefore, instead of steadily increasing the budget for those line items, we are able to offer free Wi-Fi, eBooks and eMagazines to our customers.”
Telecommunications carriers providing international and interstate service and earning above certain revenue thresholds are mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make universal service contributions to fund the program. The funds come from the universal service charge on every landline phone and mobile phone bill.