Just before it shut down for the summer, Congress rejected an effort to cut schools and libraries out of one of the Commerce Department’s largest telecommunications funding programs.

Days before the August recess, the Senate passed a Commerce spending amendment that would allow schools and libraries to apply for funds from the Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) after all.

The Commerce committee originally had voted in early July to prohibit organizations eligible for eRate funding from applying for TIIAP funds, arguing that money from TIIAP and the eRate cover the same expenses.

Staffers for those senators backing the original measure say schools and similar institutions shouldn’t get other government grants if they are eligible for the eRate—the internet-connection program many of these same lawmakers are simultaneously seeking to undermine.

The controversial $1.67 billion eRate program was established as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to wire schools and libraries to the internet. Those institutions had originally requested more than $2 billion in internet connection discounts.

But under pressure from telecommunications companies, who help subsidize eRate funding, and Congress, the eRate’s budget was cut nearly in half and will be distributed over 18 months instead of 12.

TIIAP funds go to projects such as creating computer connections between schools and hospital pediatrics units.

The Senate also restored $9 million to TIIAP’s budget, passing an amendment sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. The total amount of the federal program stands at $20 million.

The committee originally recommended slashing the budget by half, from $22 million to $11 million.

TIIAP—funded through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce—already has received $315 million in requests for the current grant cycle.

The House was expected to pass its own Commerce Department spending bill, appropriating $16 million to TIIAP. Members of the House and Senate will come together in the coming months to hammer out the differences in the two versions.

TIIAP funding opp

TIIAP was created in 1994 to help schools and other non-profit organizations use network technology. The program is known for funding unusual, innovative projects of schools, libraries, hospitals, public safety entities, and state and local governments.

To apply for a TIIAP grant, you must request an application kit (1999 isn’t available yet, but you can still review 1998). You can do that by visiting the web site, sending an eMail to tiiap@ntia.doc.gov, or calling the agency at (202) 482-2048. You can also write to: Stephen Downs, Director, TIIAP, Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications, NTIA, U.S. Department of Commerce, 1401 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room 4096, Washington, DC 20230.