Schools and libraries affected by Hurricane Katrina will have until Dec. 13 to apply for some $132 million in emergency eRate funding made available by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help rebuild telephone and computer networks and accommodate displaced students.

The agency on Oct. 18 issued rules for how it would disburse these emergency funds, which are available to schools and libraries in the federally declared disaster areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, as well as those in certain counties where the influx of students displaced by the storm is considered greatest.

The FCC said it would waive certain eRate rules to help these institutions in five key ways:

1. Reopen the filing window for Funding Year 2005 for schools and libraries that were directly or indirectly affected by Katrina.

Schools requesting funding to rebuild their telecommunications systems must certify that (a) they incurred “substantial damage” as a result of the storm; (b) the products and services they seek will be used only to restore their networks to pre-hurricane status; and (c) other sources of funding–such as insurance monies or FEMA support–are not available for restoration.

Insurance or FEMA funds can be used to pay a school’s portion of the cost of products or services (10 percent), but any amount over this figure that a school receives must be returned to the federal Universal Service Fund.

Schools that have taken in several evacuees also may apply for additional funding–but only if this influx of students causes an increased demand for services.

Schools and libraries have until Dec. 13 to apply within this special Funding Year 2005 window.

2. Treat all schools and libraries directly affected by Hurricane Katrina at the highest level of priority for internal connections requests (that is, 90 percent) for Funding Years 2005 and 2006.

“We recognize that program participants in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi most affected by Hurricane Katrina may have need for an immediate indication of whether they are likely to receive funds for Priority Two services [internal connections],” the FCC said. “By … treating all affected schools and libraries at the highest level of priority, affected program participants … can fully anticipate the amount of funding they will receive … and begin the task of developing a cogent, feasible, and sustainable plan to resume the provision of needed telecommunications and information services.”

Treating the approximately 600 schools and libraries in these states that were directly affected by the storm at the highest discount level would result in the disbursement of about $96 million in 2005 eRate funds, the FCC estimates. The agency said these funds already have been collected from telecommunications carriers and would have no long-term impact on the eRate.

3. Allow affected schools and libraries in eligible counties and parishes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to “restart the clock” for the purposes of calculating compliance with the “two in five” rule.

Under FCC rules, schools and libraries can receive funding for internal connections no more than twice every five years. For schools affected by Katrina, Funding Year 2006 now will serve as the first year of the five-year period for determining whether they can apply for these services.

4. Allow program participants in affected areas to substitute products or services in one broad category for another.

Here, the FCC waives its requirement that substituted products or services must have the same functionality as the services they are replacing.

“We recognize that program participants in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi affected by Hurricane Katrina may seek needed funding to replace damaged or destroyed services and equipment, and that it is in the public interest to allow the replacement of such services and equipment with funds previously granted for other services and equipment,” the FCC said.

Therefore, program participants in affected areas this year can substitute services in one broad category–that is, telecommunications services, internet access, or internal connections–for those in another.

5. Allow schools and libraries serving displaced students to amend their Funding Year 2005 applications to account for the unexpected increase in population by filing a special supplementary Form 471 requesting additional funding.

Schools requesting additional funding to support the needs of displaced students must indicate the number of additional students they expect to serve–and they must certify that the products or services they seek are necessary to serve these unanticipated students.

The FCC directed state eRate coordinators in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to help review these supplementary requests for evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse. The agency estimates it will grant about $36 million in these extra requests.

Link:

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov