With up to $2.25 billion in telecommunications discounts available each year, the eRate is the largest single source for technology funding. Kate Moore, president of the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)—the group that administers the program—was on hand to brief attendees of the eSchool News Grants & Funding for School Technology conference (see page 1) on the state of the eRate.

“There is an unprecedented stability to the program right now,” Moore said, noting that the tide of anti-eRate sentiment in Congress has subsided, at least for the moment. However, the General Accounting Office—the investigative arm of Congress—is auditing the SLD for the second time and will present its findings to Congress later this year.

The initial filing window for applications covering the third year of the eRate closed on January 19, Moore said. The SLD expects to issue funding commitments by early May, in time for the start of the program’s third year on July 1.

During the Year Three filing window, which lasted 71 days, schools and libraries across the country submitted more than 36,000 final applications, Moore said, surpassing last year’s total of 32,000. In the second year that electronic filing was available via the SLD’s web site, more than 28,000 applicants submitted their Form 471 applications electronically, tripling last year’s total of just over 9,000.

Now that funding requests have been received, Moore told conference attendees, USAC will estimate the dollar amount of demand and present this information to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC can set funding up to $2.25 billion, based on the demand.

In a subsequent Feb. 2 news flash from the SLD, the agency announced that it had reported an estimated $4.72 billion demand for eRate discounts—more than the previous two years combined, and more than double the maximum amount that is available in any given year.

Nearly 60 percent of the requests are associated with the neediest schools and libraries: those qualifying for program discounts of 80 to 90 percent. According to the SLD, demand in Year Three was calculated from a review of the 36,000 applications, versus the method in previous years that involved a statistical representation based upon a sample of the total applications.

In other news picked up from the conference, receipt acknowledgement letters have started to go out to all Year-Three applicants. To distinguish these letters (and all subsequent correspondence from the SLD) from materials concerning Years One and Two, the Year-Three materials will be printed on yellow paper, Moore said.

Moore said the SLD soon would be starting random field audits of applicants from Years One and Two to make sure they have complied with program rules. She advised applicants to keep all supporting documents readily available.

Some changes that applicants can expect for Year Four of the eRate: better organization of the SLD web site—including a search engine and a step-by-step procedure for applying—and a guide for electronically filing a Form 471. To ensure program stability, no major changes will be made to next year’s forms, Moore said.

Regarding Year Two news, Moore said that the SLD is waiting for the FCC to decide whether the agency will fund the 2,000 or so applications that were received outside the Year Two filing window. She also said that decisions on Year Two appeals would begin to flow by mid-February, and the SLD hopes to have decided all Year Two appeals by ther end of March.

Links:

Schools and Libraries Division of USAC

http://www.sl.universalservice.org