Schools and libraries nationwide have requested more than $2.4 billion in eRate discounts for the 1999-2000 program year, according to an estimate by the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate.

The $2.435 billion figure exceeds the $2.25 billion spending cap placed on the program by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when the eRate was first established.

“The level of demand in year two is evidence of the commitment of teachers, librarians, administrators, volunteers, business and community leaders to provide children and communities across the country with modern technology for learning,” said SLD president Kate L. Moore, who noted that 84 percent of Forms 470 and 28 percent of Forms 471 were filed online this year.

More than 32,000 applications were submitted before the filing window closed on April 6, the SLD said–an increase of 2,000 applications over the first year.

About 38 percent of requests, or $930 million, were for so-called “priority one” services–telecommunications services and internet access. Sixty-two percent, or $1.5 billion, were for internal connections or local area networking projects.

Some schools and libraries that applied for funding last year didn’t receive their funding commitments until a few months ago. But the huge demand for second-year discounts signals that school leaders weren’t entirely put off by the program’s rocky start.

Schools began applying for second-year discounts on Dec. 1, 1998. This year, the SLD established a longer application window (126 days, compared to last year’s 75-day window) to give educators and librarians enough time to complete the two-part application process after learning of their first-year eRate funding.

The $2.4 billion demand for discounts was estimated through a statistical sampling of more than 15,000 applications filed within the window, the SLD said. The agency has reported its findings to the FCC, which at press time was still deciding how much to fund the program in year two.

Last year, under intense political pressure, the FCC voted to scale back the collection of fees from telecommunications companies, which pay for the eRate, to $1.93 billion over 18 months. Whether the FCC funds this year’s program at $2.25 billion or less, one thing is clear: This year’s funding, like last year’s, won’t fully meet the demand.

According to the FCC, the same rules of priority for funding that were adopted last summer will apply this year as well. Funds for “priority one” services will be allocated first, and funds for internal connections will be allocated on a per-need basis, beginning with applicants at the 90 percent discount level and then–to the extent that funds remain–to applicants at each descending single discount percentage (89 percent, 88 percent, etc.).

All schools and libraries that turned in completed applications before the window closed at 11:59 p.m. EST on April 6 are entitled to discounts on telecommunications services and internet access. Applicants who requested discounts for internal connections once again will have to wait and see whether their requests will be funded.

The SLD hopes to issue funding commitments before the start of the second program year on July 1.

In the first program year, the SLD received 30,000 applications within a 75-day application window. About 26,000 of these applications received some eRate funding for the 1998 funding year, which runs through June 30, 1999. Internal connections were funded for last year’s applicants who qualified for discounts of 70 percent or more.

Schools and Libraries Division

Federal Communications Commission