Schools and libraries hoping to receive funding next year under the $2.25 billion-a-year eRate will have from Nov. 14 to Feb. 7 to submit their applications.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government entity responsible for the telecommunications program, announced the dates of the filing window on Oct. 19, the same day it released its annual Eligible Services List (ESL), the official roster of technologies and services that qualify for eRate discounts.

In its announcement, the FCC authorized the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), the third-party operator that oversees the eRate for the federal government, to open the filing window next month, waiving a provision that would have kept the window closed for at least 60 days following the release of the new ESL. Program administrators say the move, which the FCC also made last year, is intended to get the money flowing to applicants sooner rather than later.

Before applicants begin filing their forms for 2007 telecommunications discounts, however, they’ll want to note the changes to this year’s program.

“In general, applicants will be happy with the changes and clarifications made by the FCC,” said Scott Weston, director of information services for Funds for Learning LLC, a national eRate consulting firm.

Among the more significant changes to this year’s ESL is the addition of interconnected voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, service. Until this funding year, the service–which enables users to place and connect calls over the internet, as opposed to traditional phone lines–had not been eligible for eRate discounts.

Officials also have added other components to the list–most notably, a KVM switch. Short for “keyboard-video-mouse,” a KVM enables users to control more than one computer using a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse. The switches reportedly have been used in schools to help technology staff members better control large server environments. In personal computing scenarios, the devices have been used as a money saver, enabling users to upgrade their machines without spending extra cash on ancillary attachments.

Program administrators also have sought to clear up some confusion as to the eligibility of technology training services under the program. Where new components are installed, the FCC says, training costs are eligible for discounts under the eRate, as long as the training occurs “within a reasonable time” after the initial installation.

Looking to reduce instances of idle, or unnecessary, technology secured by schools and libraries under the eRate, program administrators have clarified the rules regarding redundant components. According to information contained in the new ESL, any technology components “installed in standby mode, redundant, not active and online, or otherwise not an essential element in the transmission of information within the school or library … are not eligible.”

With regard to fees incurred for Universal Service, these line-item charges on schools’ telephone bills are eligible for discounts, the FCC says–but charges related to the administration of the program are not. Under the change, schools and libraries can apply for reimbursement of any charges on their bills used to support the fund, but not for occasional administrative charges that appear as a separate line item on larger bills, the agency explained.

Recognizing that more schools and libraries are exploring the possibility of wireless networks, the FCC has opted to do away with its requirement that “an auditable system” be in place before applicants receive funding for wireless access or related services intended for use with certain portable devices.

Originally, the FCC said, it wanted schools to have a system in place that could monitor where certain portable technologies were being accessed, whether from home or school, to ensure that any device paid for with eRate dollars was used specifically for educational purposes.

This year, the commission said it opted to remove the term “auditable system” after wireless telecommunications providers complained that such systems weren’t technologically feasible. Despite the change, the FCC said, schools still are required to use wireless internet access and the portable devices associated with it for “educational purposes” only.

To help schools and libraries better navigate the list and make sense of these and other changes, the new ESL includes an index and glossary of terms.

For clarity’s sake, administrators say, any ineligible services or components previously listed alongside eligible services have been relegated to a separate section for ineligible services and products. As a reminder, services not eligible for support now are listed at the end of each category.

USAC officials said they are looking forward to the opening of the filing window and reiterated that applicants should review the information in the ESL before submitting their applications. The earlier applications are received, the earlier they can be processed, the company said.

Editor’s note: For more news and analysis about the revised Eligible Services List, the opening of the 2007 filing window, and other eRate developments, see our eRate Resource Center: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/ffl/index.cfm.

Links:

Universal Service Administrative Co.
http://www.usac.org/

Schools and Libraries Division of USAC
http://www.usac.org/sl/

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