WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) welcomed the formal launch of a new pilot program to make it easier for Tribal libraries to apply for broadband funding through the E-Rate program, which supports eligible schools and libraries.
In an announcement last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that the new program will provide one-on-one assistance in all aspects of planning and applying for E-Rate support, and help participants once they successfully apply to ensure they are supported during the invoicing and other post-commitment processes. The E-Rate program provides support to ensure that schools and libraries can obtain affordable, high-speed broadband services and internal connections.
“An alarming percentage of Tribes in New Mexico lack access to high-speed internet. Expanding broadband access is one of the surest ways to improve education outcomes, boost economic development, and strengthen public safety,” said Heinrich. “I’m pleased the FCC is doing more to support Tribes in securing funding for broadband through the E-Rate program. We must do all we can to make sure every child, no matter where they live or go to school, has all the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century.”
Earlier this month, Senator Heinrich, along with U.S. Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), introduced the bipartisan Tribal Connect Act to make it easier for Tribes to secure high-speed internet access at Native-owned libraries or public institutions through the E-rate program.
The FCC established the E-rate program with the goal to equip schools and libraries with broadband support so that every child in America has access to the internet. However, many Tribal communities that do not have a library have historically missed out on being eligible for this critical federal support. The Tribal Connect Act improves the E-rate program by creating an avenue for Tribes without libraries to designate a Native-owned public institution, such as a community or all-purpose center, as eligible for affordable broadband support.
In 2021, the FCC updated the definition of "library" in the Commission's rules to provide clarity regarding the eligibility of Tribal libraries and promote increased participation of underrepresented Tribal libraries in the E-Rate Program. This update mirrored provisions in previous versions of the Tribal Connect Act. The legislation Senators Heinrich, Hoeven, and Luján introduced this Congress continues to build off of this momentum.
To apply to join the E-Rate inaugural pilot or to learn more about the E-Rate program please visit: https://www.fcc.gov/tribal-libraries. Applications to participate in the pilot program will be due on November 18.