Third year of eRate funded at $2.25 billion

The federal eRate program, which provides discounts on telecommunications services to schools and libraries, will receive $2.25 billion in funding this year, the full amount allowed under rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Last year, 82 percent of the nation’s public schools and more than half of the public libraries received discounted services under the program, with more than 53,000 urban schools and more than 25,000 rural schools receiving support.

This year, the program received more than 36,000 applications requesting $4.7 billion in aid for equipment and services. Although the FCC will not be able to fulfill all those requests, the new funds for the third year of the project should allow significant progress toward the goal of connecting every classroom to the internet, said FCC Chairman William Kennard.

The money comes from fees imposed on telecommunications companies, which pass them on to customers in phone bills.

Some lawmakers and consumer groups have raised concerns that the program could lead to higher phone charges for consumers.

U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who helped establish the program, praised the FCC’s decision. Last year, Kerrey said, the program provided more than $5.5 million in telecommunications services to Nebraska schools, libraries, and hospitals.

“This is good news for rural America,” Kerrey said.

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the discounts, will fund all requests for telecommunications services and internet access from applicants who successfully completed their applications within the Year Three filing window first.

Requests for internal connections will be funded with whatever money is left over, starting with applicants who qualify for 90 percent discounts and proceeding down the discount scale until there are no more funds.

The SLD can be reached by phone at (888) 203-8100, by fax at (888) 276-8736, by eMail at question@universalservice.org, by fax-on-demand at (800) 959-0733, or on the web at http://www.sl.universalservice.org. n