Back in June, the FCC revised the funding priority on eRate applications. According to the new rules of priority, telecommunications services and internet access will be funded first, and whatever money is left over will fund internal connections.

Anticipating that this leftover amount won’t cover the demand, though, the FCC decided to fund internal connections on the basis of need. Thus, the program will fund internal connections for applicants who qualify for 90 percent discounts first, then 80 percent, and so on, until the money runs out. As you prepare to apply for the second round of discounts, you’ll want to adjust your eRate planning in light of those changes in funding priority. Single-building applicants

If you’ll be applying as an individual school or library and you qualify for an 80 or 90 percent discount, your chance of getting funding for internal connections is pretty good.

In this case, your application strategy can focus on “securing access to all of the resources” necessary to make effective use of your requests for internal connections.

For example, if you ask for funding to wire 50 classrooms, the SLC will want to see that you have a firm plan for making effective use of that wiring before it approves your request. You’ll need to show that you’ve budgeted for, or plan to secure, a commensurate amount of desktop PCs, software, electrical capacity, teacher training, etc.

On the other hand, if your discount level is below 70 percent, your chance of getting funding for internal connections is relatively low.

In this case, you may want to calculate the amount of savings that you’ll realize over the next few years from discounts on telecommunications services and internet access, and earmark those current and future savings toward funding your own internal connection project.

This assumes that you’ll continue to budget for those items at full amount, and reap the savings when the eRate does kick in.

Work with your vendors to design a payment plan that allows you to start installing the wiring today while spreading payments over time. As the savings start to materialize, you can use them to pay for the wiring.

Multiple-building applicants

If you’ll be filing as a district or consortium, be prepared for the possibility that some of your schools will get funding for internal connections while others will not. Consider the impact this inequity may have on your instructional programs.

For example, if your lesson plans will require students to access educational resources from a network, how will those in schools that don’t get eRate money for wiring accomplish this task? How will you address the technology divide between one eighth-grader versus another, just because their respective middle schools qualify for different discount levels?

There is also the technical issue. How should you design your district’s telecommunications infrastructure if you can’t be certain how many schools, and therefore how much data traffic, will be hooking up to that infrastructure? Your vendors may be able to help here. Ask them to develop a “scalable” network design that allows you start at any size and easily expand as more of your schools connect into the district’s infrastructure, whether through eRate or other funding sources.

A good network designer should be able to design a network that can be deployed today for your high-discount schools and which will act as the backbone for your other schools to connect to in the future.

Your district may be able to afford the incremental costs of connecting additional schools even without the eRate, due to the economies of scale afforded by a scalable network. A large network, through economies of scale (volume purchase, shortened implementation time, reduced overhead, vendor pricing promotions, etc.), can cost less than the sum of ten smaller ones.

Encourage your vendors to come up with innovative designs. With alternatives to choose from, you can select the one that best addresses the issues caused by inequities in the funding of internal connections.

As eRate solution manager of IBM’s Educational Industry Solution Unit, Man Bui works with schools and libraries to help them understand, apply for, and make effective use of the eRate. He can be reached via eMail at mmbui@us.ibm.com.