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eRate changes prompt new voice options for schools

eRate changes prompt new voice options for schools

New rules would eliminate eRate discounts on voice-related services within the next five years

voice-service

The phase-out will happen more quickly for some schools than others.

[Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles examining the new eRate rules and how they will affect schools.]

If the Federal Communications Commission has its way, the eRate no longer will support voice services within the next five years, including plain old telephone service, toll-free service, and even voice over IP (VoIP).

This change could have a dramatic effect on school district budgets—and it likely will force school business and IT leaders to reexamine their options for voice-related services.

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. Now indexed to inflation, the program will supply more than $2.4 billion in discounts this year.

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 make this money available for internal broadband connections, however, the FCC has made significant changes to the kinds of services that are eligible for eRate support.

For instance, voice mail, paging services, and directory assistance no longer will be eligible for eRate discounts beginning next year. What’s more, funding for all voice-related telecommunications services will be phased out altogether over the next five years.

With the eRate currently supplying more than $800 million in discounts on voice-related services each year, that’s a significant amount of funding that schools stand to lose.

This phase-out will happen more quickly for some schools than others.

(Next page: How the phase-out will occur—and what it means for schools)

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