Key findings from our National E-rate Survey

• Three out of four applicants say the E-rate is meeting its goal of connecting schools and libraries to the internet–but fewer than half say the program is well managed. Still, despite several complaints about the complexity of the E-rate process, only 24 percent of applicants take issue with USAC in particular.

• Common E-rate complaints include too much paperwork, an inconvenient timeframe for applying, and inconsistent support. Not surprisingly, satisfaction is largely tied to who gets money–and who gets audited.

• The No. 1 change applicants would most like to see is a simplified process for those applying only for discounts on Priority 1 services, or for smaller applicants with fewer needs (similar to how the 1040EZ streamlines the tax-return process for those who qualify).

• All complaints aside, 59 percent of applicants say they have more classrooms connected to the internet, and 65 percent say they have faster internet connections, than they would have if there were no E-rate program. Only 38 percent say they could sustain their current level of connectivity without the E-rate.

• The Bishop Perry Order, which requires USAC to be less rigid and more user-friendly in how it processes applications, is the single best program development in the last several years, according to E-rate applicants. But the Two-in-Five Rule, which aims to allow more applicants to receive discounts for internal connections (Priority 2 services), is not having its intended effect.

• Applicants are least knowledgeable about the rules regarding service substitutions and deadline extensions. Applicants who have received some kind of special intervention (an audit, a HATS visit, and so on) consistently rate themselves more knowledgeable about the program overall.

• There is a direct correlation between the amount of funding requested and how well the applicant understands the E-rate program. There is no such correlation with respect to whether the applicant uses a third-party web site, consultant, or other outside help when applying.

• Most of those who manage the E-rate process are administrators or IT coordinators, though some are educators, bookkeepers, or procurement officers. Educators and procurement officers have the least familiarity with the E-rate process, most likely because it is furthest removed from their core job responsibilities.

• There appears to be a high rate of turnover among E-rate managers at schools and libraries. Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents said they’ve been managing the E-rate process for three years or less–and 19 percent said it was their first year doing this.

• The average applicant spends 21 hours a month managing the E-rate process, though this varies widely depending on the time of year. Applicants requesting discounts only on Priority 1 services spend just nine hours a month managing the E-rate process. In general, the larger the applicant, the more time is invested in the program.

• Only about half of applicants say they use E-rate discounts to pay for other technology products and services; the rest put this money back into their general operating budgets.

• More than 2 in 5 respondents (43 percent) have experienced some type of program audit.

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