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E-rate and State Funding for Libraries

Fiber Connections, internet, equipment upgrades

CIPA Guidance from USAC

According to USAC, E-rate recipients "must enforce a policy of Internet safety and certify compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to be eligible for discounts... To receive support for Internet Access, Internal Connections, Managed Internal Broadband Services, and Basic Maintenance services, school and library authorities must certify that they are enforcing a policy of Internet safety that includes measures to block or filter Internet access for both minors and adults to certain visual depictions. The relevant authority with responsibility for administration of the eligible school or library must certify the status of its compliance for the purpose of CIPA in order to receive universal service support."

Click on the link provided here for more information.

In order to satisfy CIPA requirements, libraries must have:

  1. An Internet safety policy
  2. A technology protection measure, such as a filter
  3. A hearing or meeting about the Internet safety policy and technology protection measure, as advertised through a public notice

USAC lets each library decide what content should be blocked and how the filters will be set up and administered. All computers must be filtered, but policies should include the option for disabling the filters for adult (over 18) use.

When does CIPA not apply? CIPA does not apply if your application is only for telecommunications services and/or interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services). It also does not apply to Data Transmission Services, dark fiber IRUs, or self-provisioned construction projects.

CIPA, Filters, and Internet Safety

According to CIPA, a library that accepts E-rate funds to access the internet must enforce the use of a "technology protection measure" (AKA filter) on all of the library's computers and devices, including staff and adult computers. The library should have a procedure in place for authorized individuals to disable the internet filter upon request by an adult (patron or staff), without significant delay.

CIPA does NOT apply to patron-owned computers and devices. If your Wi-Fi is accessed only by patron-owned devices, never by any library-owned computers, devices, or phones, then CIPA requirements do not apply to the Wi-Fi network.

A library is CIPA-compliant as long as it makes a "good faith" effort to protect against access to internet materials that are obscene, child pornography, and, during use by minors under 17, "harmful to minors." The library (not the federal government or agency) determines what matter is inappropriate for minors.

Libraries cannot use E-rate funds to purchase filtering software or appliances.

According to CIPA, a library that accepts E-rate funds to access the internet must have a "policy of Internet safety that includes the operation of a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with Internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are--

(I) obscene;
(II) child pornography; or
(III) harmful to minors [with respect to computers used by minors]"
In addition, the library "shall provide reasonable public notice and hold at least 1 public hearing or meeting to address the proposed Internet safety policy."

The policy must address:

(i) access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet and World Wide Web;
(ii) the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications;
(iii) unauthorized access, including so-called `hacking', and other unlawful activities by minors online;
(iv) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal identification information regarding minors; and
(v) measures designed to restrict minors' access to materials harmful to minors.
The policy should also include a procedure by which authorized individuals will, without significant delay, disable the internet filter upon request by an adult.

Child pornography: "Works that visually depict sexual conduct by children below a specified age" are not protected by the First Amendment and need not meet the Miller test for obscenity [see below] in order to be banned, as the harm targeted by child pornography is the sexual abuse of the children used to create the images.

Harmful to minors: Any picture, image, graphic image file, or other visual depiction that--

(A) taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion;
(B) depicts, describes, or represents, in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals; and
(C) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value as to minors.

Minor: An individual who has not attained the age of 17.

Obscene: Materials that "depict or describe patently offensive hardcore sexual conduct," which "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." To determine if a particular work is obscene, a judge or jury must apply a three-part test, popularly called the Miller test, to the work in question. The questions the judge or jury must ask include:

  • Whether the average person, applying "contemporary community standards," would find the work, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; 
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and 
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The stringent standard established by the Miller test extends First Amendment protection to most sexually explicit expression. Materials many consider "pornographic" or "indecent" do not meet the standard for obscene material and are thus fully protected by the First Amendment. For example, in Jenkins v. Georgia, the Supreme Court emphasized that "nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene under the Miller standards."

[Definitions from ALA "CIPA and Libraries", section on Legal Issues: CIPA and Filtering.]

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Webinars on Filtering, CIPA, and E-rate

May 2019: USAC Webinar "Starting Services: FCC Form 486" with information on filing the form as well as CIPA guidance (fast forward to about 20:17 for information on CIPA, and then to 49:07 for audience questions on CIPA). Watch the webinar.

November 2, 2016: Webinar "Libraries, Filtering and Erate," with Maria Bernier from CSL and Mark Brochu from CEN.

September 15, 2016: ALA Webinar "Filtering: The Man in the Middle," on E-rate, filtering, and cyber security, with staff from ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. Read through the slides.

June 14, 2016: Webinar "CIPA and E-rate: How to get free money for your Wifi Network and Internet Access,” with Maria Bernier from CSL and Scott Taylor from CEN.

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