Skip to content

We’ll Miss You, E-Rate–But Don’t Come Back

Karen Coyle posted to Web4Lib, “It was reported yesterday in the NY Times, and today in Salon, that the FCC has ‘temporarily’ shut down payments under e-rate due to a change in the way the program is administered. Apparently, the FCC claims that there was fraud due to lax accounting rules. Meanwhile, schools and libraries are not getting their e-rate payments, and some may even lose connectivity before this is straightened out.”


I know a lot of libraries that lost enormous amounts of time filling out arcane paperwork for what was essentially a crap shoot for a post-purchase discount, and I know a lot of libraries that compromised longstanding values in order to comply with the federal guidelines because they had adjusted their budget around expecting the money. Money is hard to refuse, especially in tough times. But everything has its price, even–especially–money. And we as a profession went into the E-Rate program unfamiliar with below-the-Beltway politics.

The E-Rate program has been a target since day 1. We never had widespread press support on this one; wired journalists such as Declan McCullough labeled E-Rate as pork. So now the New York Times and Salon discovered the E-Rate? Alert the press! Oh wait–they are the press. Where the hell have they been?

Plus the FCC kept it as difficult as possible, and–something a lot of y’all may not realize–kept it as a discount service. I have to underscore that three times, because it was never cash up front; you spent the money and then hoped for the best, and I’ve seen libraries invest enormous amounts of time into E-Rate and lose piles of money over a small typo, or after a session with a splenetic auditor.

Then E-Rate got tangled with CIPA. And rather than get political, and dive into the whole filtering issue, I’ll get metaphorical. England is well-known for its “saucy” postcards, and my favorite postcard, picked up on a day trip to Southend on Sea one summer long ago, showed a woman dressed in a Salvation Army uniform, holding a sign that said, “Ladies! Is an hour of pleasure worth a lifetime of regret?” To which a pretty young thing responds, “Cor, how do you make it last an hour?”

We had our hour with E-Rate; the earth didn’t move for us. We may be better off if it just takes the money off the dresser, and leaves.

Posted on this day, other years: