Early News on E-Rate

Long-awaited details on the educational discounts promised by an originally nebulous provision in The Telecommunications Act of 1996 are out.

To backtrack: Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) added a section to the Act requiring that schools and libraries would receive telecommunications services at rates low enough to "ensure affordable access." What was "affordable," what fell under the "discount" umbrella, and how the whole process would work was left to work out by FCC and state officials. That is now done.

Most all K-12 schools will qualify, public & private non-profits. The discount formula uses a school's poverty level (measured by % of students in the federal school lunch program) along with its urban or rural location. Yes, discounts will be dramatic -- up to 90% -- and good on services & infrastructure hardware.

It will take judicious planning and a bit of research; there are needs assessment and application forms to do. Schools need an outside-approved Technology Plan plan in hand before they apply, for example.

So it pays to start now -- applications will be reviewed and granted on a first-come, first-served basis. The first funds will be available in January 1998, but schools with all the necessary material can apply now. See the FCC's website for the latest details.

Finally, our September 97 issue has an excellent Feature Article by Frank Withrow on how to apply for the discounts from the Universal Service Fund. It even includes a chart for planning. PBS also aired a teleconference in June 97 on "Maximizing Your E-Rate" that may be purchased as a tape. Officials discussed consortia, combining it with other discounts, and working with agencies. They also have info about the E-Rate on PBS Online.

Naturally, the net has lots of discussion on it. Sites mentioned below have detailed & vast material on the E-Rate, typically hosted by state agency or university servers. Since much depends on current activities and implementation nuances, it'd be wise to periodically update yourself with the latest news.

E-Rate Info

The Wisconsin Dept. of Ed. has a great Telecom Act area on their site with comprehensive information. It's in depth, and has plenty of links to other sources.

Over 4,500 links, Telecom Resources on the Internet is ranked #2 of all "communications & networking web sites by I-way Magazine, a pub that covers the net in all of its aspects.

A local angle is found in a Philadelphia newspaper article by Martha Woodall, on Philadelphia Online. Local school and state officials discussed its impact in individual schools. Noted also was how it dovetails nicely with Governor Ridge's Learn-to-Link initiative, its discounts extending the effectiveness of the governor's $121million, three-year plan.

A 6-page brochure, "The Universal Service Fund: What Educator Should Know" has been prepared by ETC, in partnership with the AASA (American Association of School Administrators) and the (NASSP) National Association of Secondary School Principals. Call the USF Hotline (888) ETC-4USF for a copy and other info. ETC, the training division of TCI, Inc., is hosting Universal Service Fund Workshops throughout the nation in Sept. and Oct. Call the AASA for locations & registration at (703) 875-0748.

Of course the US Dept of Education is a good place to watch for news of import. It'll be tracking the implementations -- problems and successes -- closely and reporting faithfully. Government officials will supply the "letter of the policy" but expect other experts to add their analyses and insights.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.

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