The $2.3 billion-a-year eRate program, which helps schools and libraries obtain discounted telecommunications services and internet access, is often confusing for applicants. The program’s different forms, filing windows, and application rules can befuddle even the most experienced eRate applicant at times.
Each fall, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)—the agency that administers the program—holds a number of training sessions designed to help applicants wade through the rules and acronyms that accompany the process. Here’s what this year’s training sessions focused on.
Schools and school districts are eligible for eRate funding, as are libraries and library systems. Consortia—groups of eligible entities that band together—also are eligible.
eRate discounts amount to between 20 percent and 90 percent of eligible costs. Discount levels are determined by the percentage of students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program in the school, or, in a library’s case, in the school district in which the library is located. Discounts also are determined by urban or rural status.
eRate funds are allocated according to rules of priority, with first priority given to requests for telecommunications services and internet access. The remaining available funds are allocated to requests for the wiring, routers, switches, servers, and other “internal connections” needed to bring internet access into classrooms, and basic maintenance of these internal connections.
Applicants must develop technology plans as part of the eRate application process. Technology plans have to identify goals and strategies for using technology to improve education or library services, a needs assessment, staff training, and an evaluation plan.
Common eRate myths
This year’s eRate training included a focus on common myths and misconceptions that surround the federal program. Here are a handful of those myths.
Myth No. 1: eRate applicants must draft technology plans each funding year before filing FCC Form 470 for all services requested.
Facts: Technology plans no longer are required for Priority 1 services (telecommunications services and internet access), but they still are required for Priority 2 services (internal connections). Technology plans can be approved for more than one year, so an applicant’s services still might be covered by its approved plan. If Priority 2 services are included in a current technology plan, and that plan covers at least part of the upcoming funding year, a new technology plan draft isn’t necessary before posting an FCC Form 470.