FCC ruling brings e-Rate funding to more applicants

$850 million in reserved funds from the e-Rate program will be carried forward to increase the number of funding commitments for 2011.

Several hundred more e-Rate applicants will get funding for the wiring, routers, switches, servers, and other equipment needed to bring high-speed internet access into classrooms, thanks to a decision from the Federal Communications Commission last week.

Granting a petition from e-Rate consulting firm Funds For Learning (FFL), the FCC on Aug. 22 directed the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), the agency that administers the e-Rate, to issue funding commitments for these so-called Priority Two services at the 80-percent discount level for funding year 2010.

On its own motion, the FCC also reversed its previous decision to deny Priority Two funding below the 80-percent discount level and directed USAC to make available funds for Priority Two requests at all discount levels.

That means all 2010 e-Rate applicants whose requests are eligible for e-Rate discounts will receive funding—marking only the second time in the program’s 14-year history that USAC will be able to fund internal connections for all eligible applicants.

There are currently 1,382 schools and districts that have FY 2010 applications pending for Priority Two solutions at discount levels of 80 percent or below, with a requested dollar amount of $286.4 million, according to an FFL analysis. However, USAC already has denied 733 applicants who applied for Priority Two discounts below the 80-percent rate, the company says—and the total amount these applicants requested was $89.6 million.

USAC denied those applicants because the agency thought it didn’t have enough funding to support those projects. Now, as a result of the FCC’s order, USAC will have to go back and review those requests. While not every request is likely to be deemed eligible for funding, the FCC’s order still should result in a few hundred million dollars in additional e-Rate discounts for 2010 applicants.

“Funds For Learning commends the FCC for taking this action and recognizing the importance for schools to get these critical infrastructure dollars,” said Peter Kaplan, director of regulatory affairs for FFL, which helps schools apply for e-Rate discounts. “Without the FCC taking a leadership position, millions of students would have been negatively impacted [because] their institutions might not have been able to afford getting fully wired and connected.”

The FCC’s Aug. 22 order has significant implications for the 2011 funding year as well. The agency announced that $850 million in reserved funds from the e-Rate program would be carried forward to increase the number of funding commitments for 2011. This means 2011 e-Rate funding also will reach several hundred more applicants than before.

The $2.25 billion-a-year e-Rate provides discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of eligible telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connections for schools and libraries.

The FCC’s actions come at an important time for schools, many of which report that their broadband connection speeds are not sufficient enough to deliver internet video and other applications they need for teaching and learning.

“Given the current budgetary constraints that many schools and libraries are facing, it is particularly important to enable these communities to enhance their access to broadband services,” the FCC said in issuing its order.

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