Orthodox Jewish Groups Exploit E-Rate Library Subsidy Program

Internet Cafes Get Cash. But What Makes Them Libraries?

Ariel Jankelowitz

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 05, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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Yet visits to the ultra-Orthodox collegial METRO members raised questions about whether the subsidies some were receiving were proportional to the scale of their operations.

According to E-Rate expert Dan Riordan, the $137,000 paid out in subsidies to Kollel L’Horauh represents an extraordinary sum to spend on eligible services for a room with 10 computers.

Doing back-of-the-envelope calculations, Riordan, who is president of On-Tech Consulting, a New Jersey-based consulting firm that works with schools and libraries on E-Rate applications, said that the most he could imagine spending on such a setup would be $45,000. Even that would represent a “ridiculous over-configuration,” Riordan said. A more appropriate amount would be $11,500, based on what he understood of Kollel L’Horauh’s size.

“I don’t see how you get it to six figures,” Riordan said.

When asked about the size of the subsidy Kollel L’Houra had received, Schwartz noted that electronic equipment is expensive, and that the organization has plans to grow. “You can’t imagine how much the servers cost,” Schwartz said. “We’re going to expand…. Now we have 14 computers. We’re going to have much more.” Kollel L’Horauh isn’t the only METRO collegial member library in Brooklyn with high allocations from E-Rate and apparently little to show for it.

The Levi Yitzchok Lubavitch Resource Center is a small library in a basement in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, just across Kingston Avenue from 770 Eastern Parkway, the spiritual locus of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic community. A collegial METRO member, the library received $122,000 in E-Rate subsidized equipment and services in 2011 and 2012.

When the Forward visited, the only electronic equipment visible was a single computer at the library’s checkout desk. Libraries that receive E-Rate subsidies can’t get reimbursed for desktop or laptop computers, or for library materials like books. Repeated attempts to reach Shlomo Friedman, the contact person listed on the library’s E-Rate filings, were unsuccessful.

While METRO is responsible for certifying to New York State that New York City institutions are libraries, it’s up to USAC, the organization that runs E-Rate under FCC supervision, to determine how much money to commit to each library.


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