Schools and libraries will have an extra three months to spend their first-year eRate discounts, thanks to action taken by the Federal Communications Commission last month.

Responding to concerns raised by schools and libraries that they would be unable to complete the installation of internal connections by June 30, 1999, the FCC voted on March 18 to extend the deadline for using first-year eRate funds to Sept. 30, 1999.

The FCC extended the deadline to “ensure that schools and libraries have sufficient time to use universal service support that was approved in the first funding year for nonrecurring service such as the installation of internal connections” or the one-time activation fee for telecommunications services, the agency said.

“Today’s actions by the Commission are good news for eRate applicants,” said Kate Moore, SLD president. “Now schools and libraries will have more time to establish the vital links between learners and the internet, while we continue to put the neediest children first.”

Contract extensions allowed

The FCC also addressed the situation of first-year applicants whose contracts for telecommunications services and internet access had expired before Dec. 31, 1998, by voting to let them extend or renew their existing contracts from Jan. 1, 1999 through June 30, 1999.

The agency’s vote opens up an additional six months of funding commitments for these applicants. Previously, applicants whose contracts expired before Dec. 31, 1998, were told they would not qualify for the extra six months of funding created when the FCC voted to extend the first program year to June 30, 1999.

However, funding for these applicants will not be available for the period between the original contract expiration date and Dec. 31, 1998, the FCC said.

Funds freed up during appeals

In another important move, the FCC ruled that during the appeals process, the SLD can proceed with disbursing approved funds while an appeal is being reviewed.

Prior rules kept the SLD from disbursing any funds during an appeal. For example, if you were approved for a service at an 80 percent discount, but you thought you should get an 85 percent discount and you filed an appeal, under prior rules you wouldn’t get any funding until your appeal was resolved.

The FCC’s action means now you’d receive the uncontested 80 percent discount while you awaited a decision on the other 5 percent.