E-Rate is the program created to support and ensure that American K-12 public schools have equal access to the Internet. This program was given the funding to support discounted rates for qualifying schools from 20-90 percent. There are many rules to comply with to qualify for this program, and it is growing more complex all the time. This service emerged due to the growing disparity between socio-economic status during the 1990s relating to which districts could afford to stay connected and has helped level the playing field for American students’ digital awareness.
The government realized that connectivity in American schools is a must. The E-Rate program, “supports connectivity, which is the conduit or pipeline for communications using telecommunications services and/or the Internet” (USAC). This program by The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) at the direction of the Federal Communications Commission. Five service types are supported through the E-Rate program:
1. Data Transmission Services and Internet Access
2. Voice Services
3. Internal Connections
4. Managed Internal Broadband Services
5. Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections. (USAC)
The process for applying and re-applying for the E-Rate program is complex and requires continuous awareness of emerging rules. The progress looks like:
1. Set up an organization account in the E-Rate productivity Center.
2. Submit FCC form 470 to open competitive bidding for desired services.
3. Submit FCC form 471 to seek funding for eligible services competitively bid.
4. Receive funding commitment decision letter.
5. Submit FCC form 486 to report the beginning of delivery of services.
6. Complete invoicing (FCC form 472 or FCC form 474) to request reimbursement.
While this program is well funded, it is exhaustible, and schools need to keep on their toes when applying. This is because the “E-rate program funding is based on demand up to an annual Commission-established cap of $3.9 billion” (FCC). Schools may apply independently or as part of a group. Researchers emphasize,
It is now disturbingly easy to run afoul of rules and procedures, to lose a year of funding, or in some cases to be asked to return funds disbursed in earlier years. Since E-rate funds are needed, not only for new projects, but for the support of ongoing programs, the importance of proper E-rate planning and execution cannot be overstated. (E-Rate Central)
To help schools avoid this pitfall, researchers have created ten strong rules to guide E-Rate Program navigation:
1. Rule 1: E-rate is not, and cannot be treated as, a “file it and forget it” program. It is a full year job. In the course of any year, E-rate coordinators are typically dealing with three different funding years, each with critical deadlines. There are reimbursements to be claimed from the previous year’s funding; there are review and filing requirements for the current year; and there are new applications to be filed for the next year.
2. Rule 2: Keep up-to date. E-rate rules continue to change and must be monitored carefully.
• Visit the SLD’s Web site at least once weekly.
• If available, subscribe to your state’s E-rate e-mail listserv. E-Rate Central maintains a free weekly E-rate newsletter for applicants in states that don’t have their own listserv (sign up for our E-rate newsletter).
• Again, if available, attend the E-rate training sessions held in many states each fall in preparation for the next application cycle.
3. Rule 3: Carefully read all form certifications.
4. Rule 4: Whenever possible, file online.
5. Rule 5: When filing paper forms, use the current versions.
6. Rule 6: Pay strict attention to deadlines.
7. Rule 7: Respond promptly – and carefully – to all review inquiries.
8. Rule 8: Technology planning and procurement practices are important.
9. Rule 9: Maintain records for at least five years.
10. Rule 10: Know when you need help and where to turn for it. For answers to specific questions, the first place to turn is to the SLD. Questions can be submitted by phone (888-203-8100), by fax (888-276-8736), or by using the Submit a Question feature on the SLD Web site. (E-Rate Central)
As the graph below shows, not all those who apply or qualify will receive the funds they request, which means those schools who are truly in need must be prepared to fulfill all the requirements on time.
Knowing who and how a school qualifies is part of managing E-Rate successfully:
E-Rate can be applied by schools both private and public, and non-profit libraries. How the money is shared is balanced due to need:
• E-Rate first year: 59 percent of discounts went to the neediest applicants.
• E-Rate second year: 54 percent of discounts went to the neediest applicants
• E-Rate third year: 69 percent of discounts went to the neediest applicants
• E-Rate fourth year: 70 percent of discounts went to the neediest applicants.
• E-Rate fifth year: 64 percent of discounts went to the neediest applicants. (Education and Library Networks Coalition)
The E-Rate program has proven to be very successful at balancing out socio-economic inequality to Internet access. This has led to, “In 1996, only 28 percent of public library systems offered public Internet access. Today, thanks to increased resources and the E-Rate, nearly all library buildings offer public access computing, and 14 million Americans regularly use these computers at no fee” (Education and Library Networks Coalition). The need for consistent and strong Internet connectivity is only growing as more of the culture shifts its activities online. However, the program may need to be expanded, as “For the 2005 funding year alone, almost 39,000 applications were submitted by schools, libraries, or consortia for discounts. Discounts requested totaled an estimated $3.65 billion, far more than available funds” (Education and Library Networks Coalition). This need is only expanding.
The E-Rate program is paid for by all providers of the Internet. All telecommunications companies are required to contribute, and many shift the cost onto the consumer. However, “The FCC does not require this charge to be passed on to customers. Each company makes a business decision about whether and how to assess charges to recover its universal service costs” (FCC). Consumers may or may not realize they are paying for this service.
The E-Rate program provides Internet service for millions of Americans who may otherwise be without it. Balancing out connectivity and opportunity is important for America’s education potential in a culture of increased diversity and interconnectivity. While this program is well-funded, the need for connectivity continues to grow, and the full extent of the need has yet to be met. The strong and flexible support system of the internet has become an irreplaceable tool for contemporary education. Most likely future generations will never know a time without connectivity.
1: Image retrieved from: http://www.usac.org/_res/documents/sl/pdf/handouts/E-rate-Overview.pdf
2: Image retrieved from: https://www.fundsforlearning.com/?gclid=CjwKEAjw3Nq9BRCw8OD6s4eI5HASJABsfCIa6wxXFiOad7VpTo0r2oK04h5pOMBdYYaWYd2qmKZ7mhoCb_bw_wcB
3: Image Retrieved from: http://www.edlinc.org/get_facts.html
Education and Library Networks Coalition. “The E-Rate: An Overview.” Edlinc.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.edlinc.org/get_facts.html
E-Rate Central. “Ten Rules for E-Rate Success.” E-ratecentral.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://e-ratecentral.com/applicationTips/ten-rules-for-erate-success.asp
FCC. “E-Rate - Schools & Libraries USF Program.” Fcc.gov, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.fcc.gov/general/e-rate-schools-libraries-usf-program
Funds for Learning. “E-rate funding status.” Fundsforlearning.com, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.fundsforlearning.com/?gclid=CjwKEAjw3Nq9BRCw8OD6s4eI5HASJABsfCIa6wxXFiOad7VpTo0r2oK04h5pOMBdYYaWYd2qmKZ7mhoCb_bw_wcB
USAC. “Schools and Libraries (E-Rate) program overview.” Universal Service Administrative Company, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.usac.org/_res/documents/sl/pdf/handouts/E-rate-Overview.pdf