When I began working with NDIA, I knew that E-rate was the government subsidy that was used to help fund schools and libraries via the Universal Fund. That was basically the extent of what I knew about the program. As we looked at connectivity in Kodiak, I was introduced to E-rate and learned how it could be used not only to help fund the Internet connection to both schools and libraries but also for building broadband infrastructure to them. This was exciting news for both myself and the communities here in Kodiak.
In the spring of 2017, I worked on a project to develop a TV WhiteSpace network to connect Ouzinkie’s tribal media center to the high-speed bandwidth in Kodiak. Although the proposal for the network was not funded, I continued to research the technology and its potential uses. The primary proposed function was to use the library’s high-speed internet signal to several remote locations with WiFi in the community. I didn’t learn until later that this would make the library ineligible to receive E-rate funding. The complexity of the “E-rate hole,” was only beginning to reveal itself to me.
The way I learned about the E-rate rule of not broadcasting the library’s signal outside of the library walls was when the Jessie Wakefield Memorial Library in Port Lions was told they might be in violation of the E-rate rule due to the amount of after hours usage. In Port Lions, there are not a lot of options to access the Internet. It is not uncommon to see people sitting at the library at night in their cars with the heater running to use the E-rate funded public access connection. Although the concern about breaking the rule was remedied by reducing the output of the WiFi router to not exceed the library’s campus, it remained a concern for me and the work I had done with TV WhiteSpace.
I was concerned that the plan to use TV WhiteSpace projects to broadcast the libraries’ signal to remote locations would thereby make them ineligible to receive E-rate funding. In my exploration of the problem, I was not alone in my concerns. There is a pending petition before the USAC Commission regarding E-rate and TV White Space. Although the FCC has never pulled e-rate support because a school or library was allowing usage outside their walls, there is nothing in place to protect that from happening.