More Than $4 Billion in E-Rate Funds Available for Districts in FY 2017

The Federal Communications Commission sets aside $3.9 billion annually for E-rate funding, and with $200 million rolling over from 2016, school districts will have access to more than $4 billion in fiscal year 2017 for connectivity upgrades.

Over the next five years, $1 billion of the $3.9 billion will pay for upgrades to internal connections, which can help districts improve high-speed broadband connectivity and WiFi. Some districts may benefit from a change that makes schools with multiple buildings that are miles apart eligible for Category One services, instead of being classified as single campuses.

The federal E-rate program, authorized as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has been shifting recently toward broadband connectivity and WiFi equipment and away from “legacy” services such as voice, which will no longer be funded in 2019.

Other changes to the E-rate program for FY 2017, which begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2018, include minor tweaks to the Eligible Services List (ESL), including the movement of the locations of descriptions of Category One and Category Two services, according to EdTech magazine.

A report from EducationSuperHighway found 88 percent of school districts offer internet speeds of at least 100 kbps per student, and those that do not are most likely to say they pay as much as $7.81 per mbps, while the schools with the fastest internet speeds pay as low as $1.33 per mbps, according to The Hechinger Report.

Districts interested in applying for E-rate funds should act soon. The process for obtaining E-rate funds typically takes 18 to 24 months, and it has been arduous and complex for applicants in the past.

To simplify matters, the FCC has released a new online application system for E-rate funding through its Universal Service Administrative Co.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].