What you should know about the 2011 e-Rate program

The use of broadband access under the community-use exception is for on-premises use only at this time. Applicants cannot charge the community for use of their network for after-hours connectivity, but the new rules do not restrict an applicant from following local use policies that might include a fee for use of a facility after normal operating hours.

Wireless off-premises pilot: The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau will be administering a pilot program to measure the benefits and potential drawbacks of providing wireless off-premises broadband access by a school, school district, or library facility for use by the general public after school hours.

The FCC will release a Public Notice with further information and details about deadlines for this e-Rate Deployed Ubiquitously (EDU) 2011 Pilot Program, and participants must apply for e-Rate funds in the normal fashion.

New Eligible Services List

With its Sixth Report and Order, the FCC also approved a new Eligible Services List (ESL) for Funding Year 2011, with the biggest change being the return of dark fiber to the list. (Previously eligible, dark fiber was deemed ineligible from Funding Year 2004 to Funding Year 2010.) Dark fiber, which refers to the unused fiber-optic cables connecting school facilities, now may be leased with e-Rate discounts, including certain setup fees and ongoing monthly charges. In addition, the FCC opened the door for any e-Rate service provider, not just standard telecommunication carriers, to offer this service.

The new rules also addressed basic maintenance of internal connections. Basic maintenance reimbursements now will be made only for actual maintenance performed and approved hours used. This change will require further clarification from the FCC, but as you consider your Funding Year 2011 maintenance requests, you’ll need to make these estimates based on hours per year of maintenance, history of needed repairs, and the current life of eligible internal connections.

…The more they stay the same

While it’s important to understand these changes to the e-Rate program, it’s also necessary to remember the things that did not change this year. Many ideas that were considered or proposed did not end up happening in the Sixth Report and Order.

Technology planning

While the technology-planning requirements have been lifted for Priority One services, there are still instances where a technology plan will be required.

State requirements: The new rules do not supersede any state or local technology-planning requirements, so you’ll still need to follow these if you’re applying for discounts only on Priority One services.

Priority Two requests: If you plan on requesting reimbursements for internal connections, the following four required elements of a technology plan remain: (1) goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology; (2) a professional development strategy; (3) an assessment of telecommunication services, hardware, software, and other services needed; and (4) an ongoing evaluation process.

Form 470

After requesting feedback on the possible elimination of the Form 470, the FCC’s order revealed only modifications to the form. You’ll still be required to post a Form 470 seeking competitive bids and services for e-Rate discounts. You can file a Form 470 at any time during the year, and your form still must be posted on USAC’s web site for at least 28 days before you file a Form 471.

Discount matrix

e-Rate discounts depend on the level of poverty and the urban or rural status of the population you serve, and they range from 20 percent to 90 percent of the costs of eligible services. After speculation that there would be substantial changes to the existing discount matrix, the new rules did not reveal any changes to the current discount matrix. Urban and rural applicants will continue to calculate their discount rates at the same National School Lunch Program percentage levels as before.

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Laura Ascione

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