As the education landscape evolves, Internet access becomes more and more integral to each school’s curricula. Unfortunately, funding this need can be difficult for some in the K-12 school districts. That’s why E-rate is so valuable. This government-funded discount program enables schools and libraries to secure affordable Internet access and telecommunications services. Are you up to speed on how your school can take advantage of the program this year?
If you are interested in applying for E-rate, it’s important to make sure you have all the necessary information. There have been some changes to the program over the last few years, and you’ll want to stay current on these updates. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about E-rate in 2017. Now is the time to secure your IT budget, so be sure to contact our expert team for assistance with budgeting and proposals.
What Is the E-rate Program?
“The Schools and Libraries program, also known as the E-rate program, makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries in America. Mandated by Congress in 1996 and implemented by the FCC in 1997, the E-rate provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries, funded by the Universal Service Fund.” (Federal Communications Commission)
Take a look at some of the following benefits and program details as explained by the FCC:
- Eligible schools and libraries may receive discounts on eligible category one services (telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access) and category two services (internal connections, managed internal broadband services and basic maintenance of internal connections).
- The discounts range from 20 to 85 percent for category 2, with higher discounts for higher poverty and more rural schools and libraries. Schools and libraries are always responsible for paying at least some part of the cost of service.
- A school or library that wishes to participate in the E-rate program submits a request for competitive bids for the specific E-rate supported services it seeks to the Universal Service Administrative Company. USAC posts those requests on its website for vendors to see. The bid request and competitive bidding process must comply with both FCC rules and state and local procurement requirements.
- After reviewing the bids it has received, the school or library selects its preferred vendor(s) and submits an application to USAC for approval listing its desired purchases.
- USAC issues funding commitments to eligible applicants. Once a vendor provides the selected services to the applicant, either the vendor or the applicant submits requests to USAC for reimbursement of the approved discounts.
- Funding is allocated first to the highest poverty schools and libraries, then the next highest poverty applicants, and continues down the list of applicants.
How Has the E-rate Program Evolved?
In 2014, the FCC amended certain aspects of E-rate in order to modernize the program, adopting the E-rate Modernization Order in July and the Second E-rate Modernization Order in December. Here are some of the outcomes of those orders, per the FCC website:
- The E-rate program cap increased to $3.9 billion in funding year 2015, indexed to inflation going forward.
- The program was refocused from legacy services to broadband by setting a target of $1 billion in support for category two services (internal connections, managed Wi-Fi, and basic maintenance) to expand Wi-Fi to more than 10 million students in funding year 2015.
- Support for voice services was phased down by 20 percentage points each funding year, and support for non-broadband, legacy services was eliminated. Category one services (telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access services) will still be ensured funding.
- Efforts to improve the overall administration of the program and maximize the options schools and libraries have for purchasing affordable high-speed broadband connectivity include:
- Suspending the requirement that applicants seek funding for large up front construction costs over several years, and allowing applicants to pay their share of one-time, up-front construction costs over multiple years
- Equalizing the treatment of schools and libraries seeking support for dark fiber with those seeking support for lit fiber. Dark fiber leases allow the purchase of capacity without the service of transmitting data — lighting the fiber. Dark fiber can be an especially cost-effective option for smaller, rural districts
- Allowing schools and libraries to build high-speed broadband facilities themselves when that is the most cost-effective option, subject to a number of safeguards
- Providing an incentive for state support of last-mile broadband facilities through a match from E-rate of up to 10% of the cost of construction, with special consideration for Tribal schools
- Requiring carriers that receive subsidies from the universal service program for rural areas — called the High Cost program — to offer high-speed broadband to schools and libraries located in the subsidy area at rates reasonably comparable to similar services in urban areas
- Increasing the certainty and predictability of funding for Wi-Fi by expanding the five-year budget approach to providing more equitable support for internal connections — known as category two — through funding year 2019.
What Should You Know About E-rate in 2017?
“According to the consulting firm Funds for Learning, school districts left $200 million on the table in 2015. That money will roll over into the E-Rate pot for FY 2017, boosting it to more than $4 billion. The firm also found, according to a recent survey of E-Rate applicants, that nearly two-thirds of respondents will exhaust their Category Two budget cap through FY 2019.
Districts are already making plans for the year, and the process for obtaining E-Rate funding typically takes 18 to 24 months. The survey also found that 93 percent of respondents plan to continue to apply for E-Rate funding — all the more reason to apply early.” (EdTech Magazine)
It’s safe to say that wrapping your head around all the details concerning E-rate and preparing to apply can be quite daunting, but you need to be completely on track with all of 2017’s deadlines and requirements. Here are some resources you’ll want to consult:
- USAC issues a weekly News Brief with the latest updates and information on E-rate, which can be found here.
- The FCC has released the 2017 Eligible Services List, which you can access here.
- A list of filing deadlines can be reviewed here.
Our expert team is also available to assist you with budgets and proposals, so be sure to contact us today and get the guidance you need to make the E-rate program work for you.