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FCC to Overhaul E-Rate for Schools, Libraries

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The Federal Communications Commission will release a plan to reconfigure the federal E-rate program, a source for school and library discounts on Internet and other communications technology upgrades. Education Week reporter Sean Cavanagh writes in his blog Digital Education that a 3-0 vote by the three sitting FCC commissioners will enable a public comment period on the plan, the provisions for which have yet to be detailed. The plan responds in part to schools' ramped-up technology needs thanks in part to the common core and may reflect elements of ConnectED, President Obama's plan for an E-rate overhaul.

Maine State Librarian Linda Lord testified at Wednesday's hearing, E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology, before the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Senate Committee. She described the Maine public library system as a way to connect citizens and communities in "the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi."

Teen and child programs figured prominently in Lord's testimony on technology-enabled information-sharing via the public library. She spoke of improvements to library technology as necessary to both support current library programs and also to enable innovative educational programs – like learning labs and mobile library services – to expand. Distance education is important to support a large population of rural students, as well as nontraditional students for whom libraries are the most reliable source of broadband connectivity. Maine participates in the Multi-State Learning Technology Initiative, in which state governments collaborate on educational technology purchases, and has pushed a 1-to-1 technology campaign in schools for over a decade. Maine libraries have partnered with public schools and cultural institutions both in and out of state to bring virtual field trips and other interactive learning opportunities to classrooms and homes. Lord called libraries "the wrap-around support network that supports K12 students after the school bell rings and after the school doors close for the summer."

In a statement, Emily Sheketoff of the American Libraries Association Washington Office praised the Commission for its vote and reiterated a call for expanded access to the E-rate program for public libraries: "We also welcome the opportunity to continue reforms begun in the last FCC order that will simplify the process so that more libraries can participate and focus on program efficiencies that will maximize available funding."

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