Schools and libraries qualifying for eRate discounts of 90 percent will receive full funding for their internal connections this year, according to the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the program.
The SLD’s Aug. 31 announcement was welcome news to applicants qualifying for 90-percent discounts. Because of the extraordinarily high demand for eRate funds this year, it was suspected that funding might not be sufficient to cover all requests for internal connections even among these poorest of applicants.
In that case, each 90-percent applicant would have received only a portion of what it requested for internal connectionsthe wiring, routers, switches, file servers, and other equipment necessary to bring internet access into classrooms. Schools and libraries applying for Year Four of the eRate requested an unprecedented $5.19 billion total, an amount greater than the first two program years combined. The Federal Communications Commission has capped the program’s annual funding at $2.25 billion.
To qualify for a 90-percent discount, at least three-fourths of an applicant’s students must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The SLD’s announcement coincided with the release of its fourth wave of funding commitment letters, which included funding for internal connections for 90-percent applicants for the first time this year. Wave four committed nearly $400.5 million in discounts, bringing the total amount committed in the fourth year of the eRate to more than $1.1 billion so far.
SLD officials said it’s unclear just how far discounts will extend for internal connections this year. The agency is notifying applicants who qualify for discounts of less than 85 percent that their requests for internal connections are being denied because of insufficient funds. But “uncertainty still exists at this time regarding internal connections funding requests at the 85 percent to 89 percent discount range,” officials said.
All eRate-eligible applicants will receive full funding this year for so-called “priority one” services, or telecommunications services and internet access.
The eRate, established by a bipartisan amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, provides schools and libraries with discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on their telecommunications services, depending on whether they are urban or rural and how many of their students qualify for the federal reduced-price lunch program.
Schools and Libraries Division, Universal Service Administrative Co., phone (888) 203-8100, web http://www.sl.universalservice.org.