Many of the comments expressed a deep gratitude for the eRate, and overall, they indicated a desire for a simplified, more predictable program that can help them provide better internet connectivity.
In what could be described as a testament to the success of the eRate program, applicants requested the largest amount in the past decade for Funding Year 2012: more than $5.1 billion. While demand for eligible services is at a 10-year high, it is nearly double the available funding ($2.3 billion).
Sensing that demand for eRate funding would continue to outpace available funding nearly 2 to 1, last spring Funds For Learning set out to gather the perceptions, predictions, and opinions of eRate applicants through a nationwide survey. Over the course of two months, Funds For Learning received hundreds of responses from applicants, gathering insight on how applicants are using the program.
In total, 636 applicants responded to the survey, which represents about 3 percent of total applicants in the country. Of these respondents, 434 identified the school or district they represented, allowing for additional statistical comparisons of their response with eRate funding request data.
The online survey consisted of 10 questions designed to address the following themes: the importance of the eRate program; how funding predictability, speed, amount, and flexibility should be ranked; a summary of applicants’ current technology use and plans for the future; ideas for how the eRate should be changed in future funding years; and, in the face of rising demand, which currently funded services are considered most important. Here are excerpts from the full survey analysis.
Significance of the eRate
One survey question asked applicants to respond to a series of eight “agree or disagree” statements regarding the eRate’s importance, historical success, and future growth.
• Approximately 90 percent of respondents said the eRate is critical to their success.
• Only about 40 percent of applicants believe their current level of internet access is adequate for their needs.
• Only one-third of respondents believe the eRate is adequately funded.
There seems to be consensus that schools depend on eRate funding for telecommunications service and internet access in their classrooms, and that more eRate funding is needed. There is almost complete agreement that the eRate is critical to schools, and nearly all respondents believe that eTextbooks and “bring your own device” technology will increase future demand for eRate-eligible services.