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Top ed-tech stories to watch: eRate gets a facelift

No. 2 on our list of key ed-tech trends for the new school year is the dramatic overhaul of the eRate, the nation’s school wiring program

eRate

The FCC’s new rules aim to transform the eRate from a telecommunications program into a broadband program that supports the delivery of high-speed internet service within schools.

[Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories examining five key ed-tech developments to watch for the 2014-15 school year. Our countdown continues tomorrow with No. 1.]

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced the most significant changes to the eRate, the $2.4 billion-a-year federal school connectivity program, in the program’s 17-year history.

The eRate offers discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of telecommunications services, internet access, and “internal connections” (such as routers, switches, and Wi-Fi equipment) to eligible schools and libraries.

Until now, internal connections have been designated as “Priority 2” services and have been funded only after all requests for “Priority 1” services (telecommunications services and internet access) were met. However, that left most schools without any eRate funding for Wi-Fi equipment and other internal connections.

The FCC’s new eRate rules set aside $5 billion in funding over the next five years for the internal connections needed to extend broadband access within schools and libraries.

To spread this funding to the largest number of applicants possible, the agency has taken two key steps: (1) It has limited the maximum discount on these services at 85 percent, and (2) it has placed a $150-per-student cap on the amount of internal connections that schools can apply for within a five-year period.

What’s more, the FCC has introduced a new category of service that is eligible for eRate support: managed Wi-Fi, or “managed internal broadband services” as the agency refers to it.

Before, schools could apply for eRate discounts only on the purchase of internal connections, or on the basic maintenance of this equipment. Now, schools will be able to contract with Wi-Fi providers to install and manage this equipment—and this full-service approach to wireless service would be eRate-eligible.

(Next page: What the new rules mean for schools)

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