Questions (and answers) from the Dec. 17, 1998 national eRate satellite broadcast

What if my internet service provider has been acquired by another company?

In most cases, the SLD is aware of the change and has reflected the change in its service provider database. If not, follow the SLD’s procedures for changing or correcting a service provider identification number (SPIN). These procedures will be available on the SLD’s web site shortly.

What if our school hasn’t heard anything from the SLD’s program integrity team and we haven’t received a funding commitment letter yet?

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be funded. Most likely, it means that your application falls into a lower priority for notification.

According to the SLD, three factors determine when you’ll get your funding commitment letter: (1) The funding priorities set by the FCC; (2) The date when your application was successfully entered into the SLD’s database; and (3) The completion of all SLD decisions on your application, so that a complete response can be given in a single letter.

The SLD knows it can fund all requests for telecommunications services and internet access, as well as all requests for internal connections from schools and libraries that qualify for a 90 percent discount. It also knows it can’t fund requests for internal connections from schools and libraries that qualify for discounts below 50 percent.

But if you applied for discounts on telecommunications services AND internal connections and your discount level falls between 50 and 90 percent, you’ll have to wait until the SLD can determine if there’s enough money left in the fund to cover your requests for internal connections. You can expect to be notified in a later wave.

My service provider won’t sign off on my BEAR Form because it hasn’t received notification that I’ve been funded yet. What should I do?

The SLD had trouble getting funding commitment letters into the hands of the right service provider contact during the first two waves. In some cases, the contact information that the SLD had for a particular service provider was wrong; in other cases, the letters simply were delayed.

Any service provider that hasn’t received a letter, but should have, is urged to go to the SLD’s web site and check the list of SPINs associated with schools approved for funding (http://www.slcfund.org/ServiceProvider/spinfo.asp). If a service provider is listed, it should follow up with the SLD as indicated on the web site.

If your service provider is slow in taking the initiative, call the SLD’s customer service line and let the agency know.

Is frame relay considered “internet access” or “internal connection?”

That depends. If you lease frame relay from a service provider, it’s considered a telecommunications service. If you purchase and own the equipment yourself, it’s considered an internal connection. Remember, though, that internal connections are only funded if they’re used to transport data from terminal to terminal within a single building; if you want to fund frame relay connectivity from one building to another, you should lease instead of purchase it.

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Creating a successful technology plan

One requirement of the eRate program is to develop a technology plan for using discounted services to further your educational goals. The SLD—and Congress—want to ensure you have a long-term plan for using the discounts before any federal funds are committed.

Your technology plan must be approved by an authority designated by the SLD, usually your state department of education or state library, before you submit your Form 486 to receive discounts. You may also submit your plan directly to the SLD for its approval.

Your technology plan should meet the following criteria developed by the SLD:

(1) The plan must establish clear goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology to improve education or library services;

(2) It must include an assessment of the telecommunication services, hardware, software, and other services that will be needed to improve services;

(3) It must provide for a sufficient budget to acquire and maintain the hardware, software, professional development, and other services that will be needed to implement your plan;

(4) It must have a professional development strategy to ensure that staff know how to use these new technologies; and

(5) It must include an evaluation process that lets you monitor progress toward the specified goals and make mid-course corrections in response to new developments and opportunities that may arise.

Plan well into the future

Al Zeisler, president of Integrated Technology Education Group, recommends that you plan well into the future when budgeting for technology. For example, if you’re planning a wiring project this year, it’s a good idea to install twice as many data ports as you think you’re going to need. It’s much cheaper to install them up front than to reopen a wall and install them later, Zeisler pointed out.

“It costs about a thousand dollars each time you have to open a wall to put in new wiring,” he said. “The wire is the cheapest part of technology.”

When creating your technology plan, make sure you also allow for the “hidden cost” of making existing school and library buildings fully capable of supporting the technology. For example, about 40 percent of existing schools lack the necessary electrical systems to support advanced technology, Zeisler said.

You can save money by coordinating the installation of technology with new construction as much as possible. Improving technology and building infrastructure at the same time can save you about 5 percent of the overall cost of each, Zeisler said.

Other questions to consider, according to Zeisler:<

Have you “tested” your students’ ability to use the preferred technology systems in a way that maximizes their comfort and the learning process? There are significant ergonomic issues to consider. If a student can’t easily see a TV from the back of the room, gets neck aches from using a poorly-positioned computer monitor, may trip over improperly-positioned cables, or is distracted by the audio systems in use in the room, your investment will bring a poor return, dissatisfied parents, and poor educational results.

Have you budgeted enough for technology training? The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recommends devoting 30 percent of your technology budget to professional development. Only as we approach this goal will we be able to fully take advantage of what technology has to offer, according to ED.

Have you included a technology upgrade and replacement cycle as an ongoing cost component in your technology plan? The reality of technology is that it changes. If you don’t plan for upgrades in your initial technology program, you run the risk of incurring unnecessarily high costs for upgrading later, and local support for administration and school board decision-making may be challenged.

Reinvest savings into non-eligible technology services

According to Zeisler, the two most expensive components of any technology program are computers and construction. Together, the two most likely will comprise more than half your entire technology budget.

Throw in 30 percent of your budget for professional development, and it becomes clear that most of your budget is devoted to eRate-ineligible services. That’s why Charles Blaschke, president of Education Turnkey Systems Inc., a technology consulting firm, recommends that you funnel your savings and refund checks from the eRate back into your technology plan.

According to Blaschke, 17 or 18 states have adopted policies either requiring or recommending such a practice. Michigan, for example, has included a measure in its state technology plan requiring its schools and libraries to reinvest their eRate savings in other technology initiatives. Even if your state hasn’t adopted such a policy, it’s a good way to support technology initiatives that aren’t covered by the eRate, Blaschke said.

In an informal telephone poll of 25 of the nation’s largest school districts, Blaschke found that one-third planned to create a technology “trust fund” to use their eRate savings for other technology items. Another third planned to use the money they saved on telecommunications services to pay for internal wiring projects that wouldn’t be funded because of the change in funding priority.

“It’s important to note that you can use your refund money to purchase technology services beyond what is eligible for funding,” Blaschke said. For example, you can use your savings or refund check to pay for computers, technology training, tech support, building infrastructure, or anything else that isn’t eligible.

Because all eligible entities that apply are guaranteed funding for their telecommunications services and internet access under the FCC’s new rules of priority, you can calculate the savings you’ll realize from these areas and budget them into your technology plan to pay for ineligible services such as computers or training.

Best practice: Milwaukee Public Schools

Mark Root, manager of technology services for the Council of the Great City Schools, pointed to Milwaukee Public Schools as a model for other districts to follow when planning their technology infrastructure.

“We’ve seen one district that was pulling eight category-5 cables to each classroom,” Root said. “Milwaukee’s approach—pulling one fiber optic line to each classroom—allows the district to do more and also save money. It’s a more efficient, more cost-effective solution.”

Fiber optic cable consists of a bundle of glass or plastic threads, each of which is capable of transmitting analog or digital data. It allows for high-bandwidth transmission of voice, video, or data over the same communication lines.

Bob Nelson, director of technology for Milwaukee Public Schools, said the district is putting a 12-port hub at the end of each line. The hubs will serve as the connectivity point for voice, video, and data inside the classrooms.

“Doing [the wiring] once with fiber gives us one single transport, so it’s easier to maintain and has a better long-term cost,” Nelson said. “This will carry us for 10 years instead of having to go back and change [the infrastructure] every 18 months.”

The district took the initiative to establish a single communications standard for its 156 buildings and 5,000 classrooms so individual schools wouldn’t have to develop their own solutions, Nelson said. Milwaukee’s goal is to have all its secondary schools wired by Sept. 1999 and the rest before Sept. 2000.

The district’s schools qualify for an average discount of 80 percent, Nelson said, so Milwaukee is still waiting to hear the status of its 1998 eRate application. The district will use its savings from telecommunications services and from its funded schools to help pay for the wiring of its unfunded schools. The district also will apply for funding through Wisconsin’s TEACH program, which loans money to the state’s public schools for internal wiring projects, to pay the balance.

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How to maximize eRate discounts for 1999-2000

Like the federal tax code, a program as large and complex as the eRate is open to considerable interpretation. Just as most Americans use the services of tax accountants to minimize their tax burden, many larger school divisions and library systems have hired eRate consultants to decipher the rules, keep up with the changes, and get the greatest discount to which they are entitled.

Now that the rules seem to be relatively stable, here are a few strategies you can employ during the second filing window to increase your discounts and cover additional equipment and services:

Sign separate internal wiring contracts for your highest-discount schools

Funding for telecommunications services and internet access receives top priority, while any money left over will fund internal connections according to need. If you plan a major purchase of servers, routers, and other “internal connections” for your school system, specify in your bid that you want a separate contract for your highest-discount schools. This would increase the likelihood of funding for those items.

Increase your discount percentage by identifying eligible students at high schools

For some reason, older students are more reluctant to participate in the National School Lunch Program. If you can identify participating siblings of non-participating students living in the same household—typically the siblings are in elementary school—you may count the non-participating sibling as an “eligible” student. This is most effective if you need relatively few students to jump from one discount level to another. Lock this information away and use it only if the SLD questions your discount or in case of an audit.

Lease your wide area network

Wide area networks are eligible for discounts only when leased from a telecommunications carrier, or when leased from any vendor (such as a cable company) when the cost of the WAN is less than what a telecommunications carrier would charge for equal service. Since wide area networks do not constitute internal connections, the cost of purchasing components and services used for their construction is not eligible for discounts.

File early

During the first filing window, many applicants who waited until the last minute to file their Forms 470 and 471 had their applications rejected because they failed to meet the “minimum processing standards” established by the SLD and were unable to resubmit their applications within the window.

For all services that are ongoing (local and long-distance phone service, existing contracts, internet service, wide area network contracts, etc.), file a Form 470 as soon as possible. File a Form 471 when the 28-day posting period has passed for tariff services (you don’t need a contract for tariff services).

For “existing contracts”—contracts signed on or prior to July 10, 1997, or as the result of a previous Form 470 posting—you may file a Form 471 immediately after you file the Form 470. The SLD will not process your Form 471 for 28 days, but will hold it.

All other 471 forms can only be filed after you have a signed contract in place. Filing early will give you more time to correct any mistakes in an application that is rejected. Remember, you may resubmit rejected applications, but they must be corrected and received by the SLD before the filing window closes on March 11 to receive funding.

Separate services on multiple 471 forms

Because the FCC has established new rules of priority (funding all requests for telecommunications services and internet access first, then prioritizing requests for internal wiring), 471 forms containing only requests for telecommunications service and internet access will be processed first. The 471 forms that include requests for internal wiring will be held, in most cases, until all other applications have been funded before being processed. If you file one Form 471 for telecommunications services and internet access and a separate form for internal connections, you’re likely to get funds sooner.

As eRate specialist for the Virginia Department of Education, Gregory Weisiger advises the state’s applicant community. He can be reached at gwiesige@pen.k12.va.us.

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Form 471 filing guidance

Form 471 should be filed by the “billed entity”—that is, the entity responsible for paying your bills. If a school’s telecommunications bills are paid by the district, then the district should submit a Form 471 on behalf of the school.

Remember to list your local and long distance telephone service on separate lines of your Form 471. Though you probably only get one phone bill each month encompassing both services, they are actually provided by different service providers with different SPINs.

Electronic filing of Form 471

If you’re applying for the 1999-2000 program year, you now have the option of filing your Form 471 online, rather than filing a hard (paper) copy.

To successfully file Form 471 online, though, you’ll need the following technologies:

• Computer: PC (Intel-based or IBM compatible), 486 or higher

• Operating system: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT or higher

• Browser: Internet Explorer 4.0, Version 4.71 or higher (with capability for running Visual Basic scripts). To determine which version of Internet Explorer you have, click “Help” at the top of your browser, then click “About Internet Explorer.”

During this pilot year, the online version of Form 471 will NOT be available to applicants using:

• Macintosh computers or other non-PC (Intel/IBM-compatible) computers

• Non-Internet Explorer browsers, such as Netscape

• Versions of Internet Explorer earlier than IE 4.0/V 4.71

If you cannot or choose not to file your Form 471 online, you can still download and print a hard copy of the form and its instructions from the SLD’s web site or call (888) 203-8100 to request a copy by mail.

If you do decide to file your Form 471 online, certain items must still be mailed to the SLD, including your discount calculation worksheet and signature page.

Eligible vs. ineligible services

The SLD has promised to post a more detailed matrix of eligible and ineligible services—including a clarification of some of the gray areas—on its web site soon. In the meantime, you can consult the current matrix at:

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/

Examples of eligible and ineligible telecommunications and internet access services include:

• Eligible: Basic phone service; T-1, 56K, or ISDN lines; dial-up access; direct internet connections; eMail; and wireless connections.

• Ineligible: Voice mail; Yellow Pages; and online content (only the access itself is eligible).

Examples of eligible and ineligible internal connections include:

• Eligible: Wiring, routers, hubs, switches, network servers, system software, wireless local area networks, and private branch exchange (PBX).

• Ineligible: Desktop computers, fax machines, modems and cable modems, firewalls, electrical wiring, and telephone handsets.

If you have a question about whether a particular service is eligible or ineligible, you should fax or eMail your question to the SLD. That way, you have a paper trail to back you up if you’re given a wrong answer.

If you’re still not sure, it can’t hurt to apply and hope for the best. Be sure to list any questionable services as separate line items on your Form 471, though. The SLD makes funding decisions on a line-by-line basis, and you don’t want to jeopardize funding of a legitimate request by including a questionable service on the same line.

Shared vs. site-specific services

Any service you can tie to a particular site should be listed as a site-specific service for the purpose of calculating its discount. This is important when filling out Items 15 and 16 of your Form 471.

The general rule on shared vs. site-specific services is as follows:

• Telecommunications services are almost always shared among multiple school or library buildings and would be listed in Item 15. You would then calculate discounts on these shared services by taking a weighted average of the discount levels of each individual entity, as indicated in the form’s directions.

• Internet access is most often shared, unless it is a dedicated connection from a single building directly to an internet service provider, in which case it would be considered site-specific.

• Internal connections are almost always site-specific and should be listed separately for each building in Item 16. One exception: a district-level internet server that supports local schools would be considered “shared” and should be listed in Item 15.

Calculating discount

When calculating your discount, remember that it’s the percentage of your students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches, NOT the percentage of your students who participate. To get a more accurate count, consider using alternate methods such as financial aid records (if you’re a private school that charges tuition), student participation in other federal or state government programs, or family surveys of household income.

A useful resource is the free “Discount Rate Calculator” offered by E-Rate Central, a web site operated by the New York State Education Department. Designed to calculate aggregate discount rates for school districts using a student-weighted average, the program can be used to generate the required Form 471 worksheet attachment. The calculator can be downloaded in Excel format from the E-Rate Central web site archives at:

http://www.e-ratecentral.com/Matrix.EXE

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Form 470 filing guidance

Form 470 introduces applicants into the eRate program. The form basically tells the SLD who you are and what you want. It should be filed by the entity responsible for negotiating contracts for eRate eligible services on your behalf.

Everyone who applies for the eRate must file a Form 470 for both new AND existing services. Even if the services you’re applying for discounts on are covered under a pre-existing contract, you still have to file a Form 470 and observe the 28-day posting period before you can file your Form 471.

The person authorized to order services must sign and date the Form 470, even if it was filed online. The signature page must be mailed to the SLD; eMail and faxes will be rejected.

Because they aren’t covered under contract, tariff services should be listed as “new” services each time you apply for the eRate.

Remember that you can’t request eRate discounts on your Form 471 for services that don’t appear on a Form 470—so make sure your Form 470 includes requests for as many services as you think you’ll need in the coming year.

Pre-existing contracts

Services covered by pre-existing contracts don’t have to be rebid. For the 1999-2000 program year, a pre-exising contract is defined as:

• Any multiyear contract signed on or before July 10, 1997;

• Any multiyear contract signed during the 1998 program year, after posting a Form 470 for 28 days and taking bids; or

• Any contract signed after “pre-posting” a Form 470 and taking bids before the application window opened Dec. 1.

Multiyear contracts signed after July 11, 1997, that were not part of the eRate’s competitive bidding process last year will need to be rebid. This includes contracts signed after July 11, 1997 and before the SLD’s web site opened for business on Jan. 30, 1998. Such contracts were honored as “pre-existing” under last year’s program, but won’t be honored as such this year.

“Pre-posting” means posting a Form 470 to the SLD’s web site before the application window opens to get a jump on the bidding process. This is allowed under the rules of the eRate, and it can greatly benefit schools that need extra time to manage the bidding process for large and complex projects.

Note, however, that if you pre-posted your Form 470 before the window for the 1999-2000 program year opened Dec. 1, you still need to resubmit the same Form 470 within the filing window and observe the 28-day waiting period before signing a contract and filing a Form 471.

Signing contracts

Information from your Form 470 will remain posted on the SLD’s web site during the 28-day posting period. During that time, vendors may ask for your RFP or additional information on the services you’re requesting. You may consider bids from vendors solicited in response to your posting; however, you must comply with all state and local procurement laws as well.

The only vendors that are required to provide discounts to eRate applicants are local and long-distance telephone companies. All other vendors provide discounts on a voluntary basis. You may want to insert clauses in your RFP specifying that the successful bidder must participate in the eRate program by obtaining a service provider identification number (SPIN) and submitting the proper forms.

You may also want to include an “out” clause stating that terms of the contract are dependent on approval of eRate discounts by the SLD.

Technology plan requirement

If you’re applying for discounts on basic telephone service only (including local and long distance service), you aren’t required to have a technology plan.

• DO NOT complete any row of Form 470, Items 12-14, other than Row 12a.

• DO check the box in Item 18 to confirm that your application is for basic phone service only.

• DO NOT fill in the boxes in Items 22 and 23 of the certification.

All other applicants must have a certified technology plan in order to participate. According to the SLD, your technology plan should include these elements:

• Goals and strategies

• Needs assessment

• Budget

• Professional development

• Evaluation

If you applied for the eRate last year, you don’t need to have your technology plan recertified unless it has expired or the agency that certified it requires you to. Your plan should reflect any changes or new circumstances since last year, though.

Minimum processing standards

The SLD has revised its minimum processing standards for Form 470 as of Dec. 22. Your application must meet the SLD’s minimum standards for processing or it will be returned to you with a summary rejection. You can correct and file it again, but you might miss the 100-day filing window.

If you submit your Form 470 online, the system will make sure you meet the minimum standards as you complete each item. If you choose to file manually, you should print a copy of the “Form 470 Minimum Processing Standards Applicant Checklist” and follow along as you complete the form.

The document is available on the SLD’s web site at:

http://www.slcfund.org/

Form 470 acknowledgment letter

For each Form 470 you file with the SLD (either online or by mail), you should get a letter acknowledging its receipt. The letter will tell you the date the required 28-day waiting periods ends. This date is the earliest you can sign new contracts and the earliest you can complete and submit a Form 471.

The SLD will verify your compliance with the 28-day waiting period by confirming that your Form 471 application was signed on or after the 28th day following the date your Form 470 was posted to its web site.

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General news and notes

Correction to the correction process

In the December issue of eRate Update, we published a list of procedures for changing or correcting the information contained on your Form 471. The only changes that the SLD will allow are: (1) correcting your applicant name, address, or contact information; (2) correcting an incorrect service provider name or identification number (SPIN); (3) changing a service provider; (4) changing services within an approved funding request, using the same service provider; (5) reducing the amount of approved discount for a funding request; or (6) cancelling an approved funding request.

Though the terms and conditions under which you can make these corrections still apply, the procedure for making them has changed, at least for the time being. The correction forms that we reported you need to use have been taken down off the SLD’s web site because they must first be approved by the federal government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

While the SLD is waiting for approval of the forms, it will continue to take your Form 471 correction requests via letter. According to the SLD, the agency will post procedures for making those requests by letter on its web site shortly.

Appeals procedure released

On Jan. 12, the SLD released instructions for appealing a funding decision or contacting the agency with your questions about a funding decision. The instructions are located at:

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/471correct.asp

A few key points in the appeals procedure are:

(1) You must appeal to either the SLD or the FCC in writing. You can choose to appeal to either, but the SLD recommends you start with it and move on to the FCC as your final recourse. SLD responses to appeals are likely to be handled more expeditiously and do not, in any event, preclude subsequent appeals to the FCC.

(2) In your letter of appeal, make sure you clearly identify the funding commitment letter and particular Funding Request Number (FRN) in question. Also, make sure you give your proper contact information.

(3) You must file your appeal within 30 days of receiving your funding commitment letter.

Tips for completing Form 486 and BEAR Form

On Dec. 23, the SLD released guidance documents for completing your Form 486 and Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form. Those documents can be found at:

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/486ag/486tips.asp

<http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/472

One note about the BEAR Form: You must get your service provider to sign off on the form. If you’re not sure who should sign it, you can find the correct service provider contact information on the SLD’s web site. Make sure you get Block 4, the Service Provider Acknowledgement, back from your service provider and attach it to the rest of the form before you send it, though. If the two sections are submitted separately, “I can guarantee they’ll never meet,” said Mickey Revenaugh, SLD’s vice president of outreach.

Partial denial of funding requests

If less than 50 percent of the amount requested in any given funding request number (FRN) is for ineligible services, the SLD has decided to deduct the ineligible portion while funding the remainder. Your funding commitment letter will note “adjusted by SLD” if this is the case. This policy is in effect for the first year only, because the program is new.

“We’ve asked you to be patient with us this past year, so we’re being patient with you,” Revenaugh said.

If 50 percent or more of the amount requested in an FRN is for ineligible services, though, the SLD will deny the FRN. Beginning with the 1999-2000 program year, if ANY portion of an FRN is for an ineligible service, the entire FRN will be denied.

Discounts below 50 percent

Though 1998 applicants who qualify for discounts below 50 percent won’t get funding for their internal connections, schools and libraries below the 50 percent level shouldn’t be discouraged from applying for internal connections for the 1999-2000 program year—provided they can afford to foot the cost of wiring themselves.

“Even if you weren’t funded for internal connections this year, you may get funding next year—there’s really no way of knowing right now,” Revenaugh said.

While the same rules of priority will apply, the FCC won’t decide how much to fund the program until after the window has closed and it has an estimate of the demand. Depending on how high the demand is and how much the FCC thinks it can risk collecting from telecommunications carriers to pay for the program, there may be enough money to fund all applicants’ requests.

So if you’re planning a wiring project during the 1999-2000 program year, there’s no harm in applying for discounts. Just make sure you’re prepared to pay the entire cost in case your request for internal connections is denied.

Problem resolution by phone

For the 1999-2000 program year, the SLD has promised to conduct its problem resolution completely by phone. The SLD’s goal is to resolve all problems on the spot instead of through a series of back-and-forth communications via eMail or fax, Revenaugh said.

Drop-dead date established

The SLD has set April 1, 1999 as the “drop-dead” date for service providers to incorporate eRate discounts into first-year applicants’ bills. If you haven’t seen discounts reflected in your bills by then, you should contact the SLD.

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SBC withdraws from eRate court challenge

SBC Communications Inc., which owns Southwestern Bell and Pacific Bell, has withdrawn from a key portion of a lawsuit that continues to threaten the eRate. SBC’s withdrawal follows on the heels of a similar withdrawal by BellSouth Corp. of Atlanta and leaves GTE Communications Corp. as the sole complainant in the case.

The lawsuit challenges the FCC’s formula for setting payments that local phone companies get from long-distance companies to support the agency’s universal service programs, including the eRate. In November, the companies argued before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that the FCC’s formula gives too little money to companies with large numbers of rural customers, who cost more to service on a per-line basis.

In a separate filing, the companies had argued that the eRate represented an “unconstitutional tax” on telecommunications carriers, and that the FCC had exceeded its authority when it ruled that eRate discounts should cover internet access and internal connections as well as telecommunications services.

On Dec. 21, 1998 SBC filed a motion to withdraw its appeal of those aspects of the case dealing with the eRate. The court approved SBC’s motion Jan. 11.

Based on the FCC’s responses to congressional inquiries into the eRate last year, “We’re satisfied that we can work out our differences on the eRate with the FCC outside the courtroom,” said David Schlosser, press officer for SBC. “SBC’s commitment to education is such that we don’t feel the need work out these differences in court.”

Schlosser said one of the key issues for the plaintiffs was that the FCC seemed to be focusing too much of its time and energy on the eRate, instead of worrying about what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 said it should be focusing on: implementing the traditional high-cost, low-income aspect of universal service.

“Unfortunately, I think the eRate became caught up in the larger issues of universal service,” Schlosser said. “Now I hope we can focus on the most critical aspects of the appeal, the [high-cost, low-income] issues.”

BellSouth had withdrawn its appeal Nov. 24, stating that it believes “that most major issues…will be resolved through the regulatory process in place today. The company also believes that…it is in the best interest of BellSouth and its customers in the education sector to withdraw this appeal.”

Carol Henderson, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington office, said she was encouraged to see another litigant withdrawing its challenge of the eRate in court. “We look forward to developing a positive working relationship with SBC and hope that all other legal and political challenges can be resolved,” she said.

Phyllis Albritton, eRate consultant to the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado State Library, said she also was encouraged by the news. “It’s interesting to see that SBC has dropped the eRate portions of its complaint, because SBC sort of started the whole process of taking the matter to court,” Albritton said.

But others were more cautious in their assessment of the suit. Jon Bernstein, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, told eRate Update, “We are very happy that SBC has finally recognized the value of the program, but its withdrawal by no means signals the end of the threat.”

Remaining complainant GTE has given no indication that it will withdraw its appeal as well, Bernstein said. A spokesman for GTE declined to comment on the suit.

A three-judge panel is expected to issue its ruling sometime this spring.

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SLC becomes part of Universal Service Administrative Co.

The Schools and Libraries Corp. (SLC) and the Rural Health Care Corp. (RHCC) have merged with the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) as of Jan. 1. One agency, instead of three, now administers all of the FCC’s universal service programs.

As a result of the merger, the SLC has become a division of USAC called the Schools and Libraries Division. The SLC’s board of directors is now a committee of USAC’s board. The committee oversees the budget of the Schools and Libraries Division and reports to the USAC board. Any action taken by the committee is subject to review by the USAC board at large.

According to the SLC, eRate applicants and vendors can expect the same or better service under the merged entity. Client service and support centers will continue their jobs uninterrupted, and SLC staff will remain in place. Contact information for the SLC will remain the same as well.

USAC was created in 1997 as a not-for-profit subsidiary of the National Exchange Carrier Association. It is governed by a board of directors that includes a broad representation of industry and non-industry interests, such as service providers, schools and libraries, health care providers, consumers, and state regulatory commissions.

USAC was responsible for overseeing the administration of the high cost and low income universal service programs, as well as the billing, collection, and disbursement of funds for all the universal service programs.

RHCC was a not-for-profit corporation responsible for administering the universal service program for nonprofit rural health care providers. It was created to ensure that rural health care providers pay no more than their urban counterparts pay for telecommunication services.

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Fourth wave and special “library wave” of funding letters sent

On Dec. 31, 1998 the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD; formerly known as the Schools and Libraries Corp.) issued its fourth wave of funding commitment letters to 1998 eRate applicants. More than 1,080 letters were sent, totaling $33.4 million in discounts. Two weeks later, the agency issued a special “library wave” of 1,300 letters committing $8 million to libraries. The two waves bring the total number of letters sent to nearly 10,000, with a total funding of about $215 million.

Special measures for libraries

About 17 percent of all 1998 applicants were libraries. Though the representation of libraries increased from 7 percent in wave three to 13 percent in wave four, libraries still had been underrepresented in the commitment phase until now.

According to Mickey Revenaugh, the newly designated library liaison for the SLD, the special “library wave” issued Jan. 14 was intended to bring both the number and dollar share of funding commitments to libraries into line with their total representation among eRate applicants.

“We are passionately committed to ensuring access by our nation’s libraries to all aspects of the eRate program,” Revenaugh said. “When we saw that libraries were not well represented in the early waves of letters, we took immediate corrective actions.”

The special library wave was just the beginning of the agency’s stepped-up efforts toward libraries, Revenaugh said. Other steps will include biweekly conference calls with national library leaders, the dissemination to state librarians and their technology staff of detailed state-by-state reports of eRate library recipients, and the development of library-specific guidance documents.

Internal connections threshold applied

Wave four was the first wave in which the SLD implemented its recently-announced threshold for internal connection requests. As eRate Update reported last month, the SLD has determined that there won’t be enough money to fund internal connections for applicants who qualify for discounts below 50 percent.

Starting with wave four, applicants with internal connection requests below the 50 percent discount level will be notified in their funding commitment letters that these requests will be unfunded due to a lack of funds. The SLD will continue to commit funds for internal connection requests at the 90 percent discount level and will determine in future waves if funds are available for internal connections at discounts between 50 and 89 percent.

All approved requests for telecommunications services and internet access received within the 1998 application window will continue to be funded, regardless of an applicant’s discount level.

A state-by-state list of funding commitment letter recipients, by wave, is posted on the SLD’s web site:

http://www.slcfund.org/

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Five Sure-Fire Teacher Training Resources That Won’t Cost You A Penny

Converge, January 1999, p. 44 http://www.convergemag.com/Publications/CNVGJan99/fundingtech/fundingtech.shtm

Here are five best-bets for resources that can supplement your teacher training projects:

  1. Cable in the Classroom’s Professional Development Institute offers three valuable resources: (a) laptop workshops that demonstrate curricular resources through cable TV and the Internet; (b) a website which has online workshops and instructional broadcasts; and (c) four labs in the Washington, D.C., area in which teachers can learn how to integrate technology into the curriculum and how to design Web pages. For more info, go to http://www.ciconline.com/inst.htm<

  2. National Cable Television Association and Tech Corps have teamed up to offer the “webTeacher” program, which provides 80 hours of training on Internet applications like E-mail, web pages, safety, and curriculum. See http://www.webteacher.org

  3. Corporate programs from technology companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and Sun offer a host of training resources for schools.

  4. Achieve, Inc., a bi-partisan not-for-profit organization created at the 1996 National Education Summit, serves as a clearinghouse for guidance on how to use technology in the classroom effectively. See http://www.achieve.org

  5. One of the primary goals of the CEO Forum on Education and Technology (http://www.achieve.org) is to support teacher training and professional development.
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