FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky public libraries 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 2019 – June 2020 funding year, Kentucky public libraries have a record commitment of $2,195,532 in E-rate funding to be disbursed as they are invoiced for eligible products and services, marking a record amount 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.
The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA), an agency in the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, provides one-on-one consultations and extensive training in completing the required forms to help libraries meet deadlines and follow the program rules correctly because filing for the discounts can be a lengthy and difficult process.
“The agency devotes considerable resources to E-rate assistance in recognition of its importance to library budgets and public services,” said Terry Manuel, state librarian and commissioner for KDLA. “To date, more than $18.7 million in E-rate discounts has been disbursed to Kentucky libraries, and 75% of public library branches now have fiber internet connections.”
Each year, the majority of the state’s public libraries apply for E-rate discounts that make broadband service more affordable nationwide. They complete a competitive bidding process to drive down costs and request 20% to 90% discounts based on the percentage of students in the local district who qualify for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the designation of their library system as either rural or urban according to the U.S. Census.
On average, Kentucky public libraries receive an 80% to 90% discount on Internet, data transmission service, mobile hotspots for bookmobiles, and upgrades or maintenance for networking equipment such as routers, switches, and wireless access points.
Kentucky public libraries also set a new participation record with 47 libraries requesting discounts on networking equipment or maintenance for a 38% increase from the previous record set in 2017.
Manuel praised the efforts of Kentucky’s E-rate libraries. “Kentucky’s public libraries continually seek improvements to their services, and E-rate discounts help them pay for faster internet and upgraded networking equipment to support online learning, workforce development, and videoconferencing.”
“This year’s fiber internet upgrade with E-rate discounts is going to help our customers immensely,” said Robertson County Public Library Director Carol Mitchell. “Many people in our community rely on our library for internet access. Our computers and Wi-Fi are used to search and apply for jobs, complete coursework, obtain medical information, and receive government information and services. It’s crucial that we provide both reliable and high-speed access to information resources our customers need to fulfill their goals.”
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 phone and cellphone bill.
For more information on the E-rate program, visit https://www.usac.org/e-rate/.