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E-Rate Window Opens Mid-December To Help Schools Bolster Connectivity

The next window for E-Rate funding requests opens on December 12, 2012 and closes at the end of March 14, 2013, 93 days later. That March deadline is the last day by which schools and districts can file FCC Form 471, which lays out the telecommunications services they intend to fund.

E-Rate is an annual multi-billion dollar federal program for schools and libraries that helps them obtain discounts and rebates on telecommunications and services, Internet access, internal connections, and maintenance related to those operations. Eligibility for discounts is based on the location of the school and the poverty level of students attending it. This Federal Communications Commission program is funded by the Universal Service Fund, which is collected through phone bills by telecommunications providers. E-Rate is managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company.

E-Rate funds are allocated to those schools showing the most need for "Priority 1" services, which include leased fiber, Web hosting, Internet access, local and long distance and cell phone service, digital transmission services, voicemail, wireless transmission for two-way communications, and smartphone data services. Once qualifying applications are fulfilled, remaining money in the E-Rate fund goes to "Priority 2" services, which cover the expense of internal connections, such as telecommunications wiring inside buildings and the purchase of routers, switches, hubs, and network servers, wireless networks, and system operating software. Priority 2 also covers maintenance expenses related to keeping that equipment running.

2012 was the first year in which the fund required schools to include within their existing Internet safety policy a provision that laid out how students would be educated on appropriate online behavior. That instruction needs to cover the safe use of social networking sites and awareness of cyberbullying.

According to Stephen Sharp, a senior compliance analyst at Funds For Learning, program demand is on the rise, "as E-Rate applicants expand wireless infrastructures and initiate [Bring Your Own Device] programs." Sharp's company specializes in guiding applicants through the E-Rate process.

For the second time in the history of the program, schools requested more than $5 billion in funding, an eight percent increase over the previous year. In the current school year, there were sufficient funds to cover all Priority 1 requests, as well as all Priority 2 requests at 90 percent.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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