Don’t Hate the e-Rate: Tips for Success
Know those funny extra charges on your mobile telephone bill? They help fund phone, internet, and broadband services for schools and libraries throughout the United States. That might make you feel a little better about paying that bill every month.
Know those funny extra charges on your mobile telephone bill? They help fund phone, Internet and broadband services for schools and libraries throughout the United States. That might make you feel a little better about paying that bill every month.
In 1996, Congress implemented the Telecommunications Act, which established the e-Rate program. The Universal Service Fund provides money for the valuable e-Rate discount program for schools and libraries. Eligible schools include public, private, charter, parochial and tribal. School/library consortia can also apply to share e-Rate expertise.
After 2018, Category One e-Rate services include data transmission services and internet access; there is no budget limit for funding requests and funding must be requested annually. Category One may also involve construction projects such as “lit fiber, leased dark fiber, self-provisioning, construction of network facilities, design and engineering and project management” (USAC). Category Two services include internal connections, managed broadband services, and basic maintenance of internal connections; there is a funding request limit and the funding covers a five-year timeframe (USAC).
Schools and libraries currently receive discounts from 10 to 90 percent on their local and long-distance telephone services, cell phones, high-speed lines, Internet services/broadband and internal connections. Internal connections include the equipment necessary for these services such as routers, switches and access points.
Discounts are based on poverty level (National School Lunch Program data), urban or rural status and service type (Category One or Two). Vendors provide these discounts through the e-Rate program. For example, a small school’s annual internet services bill may be $22,265.40 per year, but they pay only $2,226.54 due to a 90 percent discount rate. The chosen vendor is paid back for their discounts by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The Federal Communications Commission authorizes USAC, a nonprofit, to manage the e-Rate program. While telephone/communication services are being phased out after 2018, find the eligible services list here.
Although e-Rate is not grant funding, it is monitored by the Federal government and entails tons of paperwork and bureaucracy like federal grants. Some school districts and libraries don’t apply for this invaluable funding due to the difficulty and time involved, and sometimes parent volunteers or technology personnel complete the process for school districts.
Navigating the complicated guidelines and requirements can be a nightmare. However, there are many resources and tips to make the process a little less hair-splitting. Here are my top ten:
1. Get to know your state e-Rate director and use that person as a resource throughout the year.
2. Attend as many trainings as possible provided through your state. These can also be great networking opportunities where you can find other e-Rate consultants or technology staff to support you throughout the e-Rate process.
3. Watch all the webinars provided and read announcements by USAC.
4. Sign up for USAC newsletters provided by email.
5. Reach out to USAC on their website or call with questions; they are there to help you.
6. Attend webinars, ask questions and utilize resources from the Education Superhighway. This nonprofit’s mission is to “Upgrade the Internet access in every public school classroom in America so that every student has the opportunity to take advantage of the promise of digital learning.”
7. Work closely with USAC, your school district technology department, and chosen vendors to successfully receive e-Rate funding.
8. Remember that the e-Rate funding year is from July 1 to June 30. For example, FY2018 = July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. This is different from grants where usually FY2018 = July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018.
9. Know and follow the competitive bidding requirements from USAC and your state.
10. Keep all e-Rate records for at least ten years, whether they be hard copy or electronic.
As my state e-Rate director says, you will feel better after completing a complete year cycle of the process. Okay, so I feel a little better after a year, but never as an expert because of ongoing changes and the need for constant practice, refinement and keeping it as simple as possible. I don’t hate e-Rate, but I don’t love it either.