Five tips for eRate success

For funding year 2012, there will be at least $2.29 billion available for distribution.

With a new eRate application season about to dawn for schools and libraries, here are five tips that can help ensure success in getting your fair share of nearly $2.3 billion in telecommunications discounts.

1. Always check the Eligible Services List (ESL) before buying.

“One thing that we always encourage applicants to do is to take a look at the Eligible Services List, which is the document that governs product or service eligibility,” said Brian Stephens, senior technology and regulatory analyst for eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning.

Applicants often purchase a new product or service that is eRate eligible but then don’t apply for discounts on this product or service—perhaps because they weren’t aware of its eligibility, Stephens said. By evaluating all new purchases for eRate eligibility, schools and libraries might save themselves money.

The Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), the agency that administers the eRate, issues a revised ESL before the filing window opens for each new funding year. The new ESL for funding year 2012 is now available for downloading from USAC’s web site.

2. Apply regardless of your discount level.

Some applicants who fall below the 80-percent discount threshold—the typical cut-off for Priority Two discounts on internal connections—might think: Why bother submitting an application? Yet, earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission said it would tap into unspent monies to fund all Priority Two requests for the 2010 program year. The FCC is rolling over an additional $850 million in unspent funding for use in the 2011 program year as well.

“That’s actually the first year of the program, since [its debut in] 1999, when all of the Priority Two funding requests were satisfied,” Stephens said, noting that in funding year 2009, funding for Priority Two requests extended only to the 77-percent discount level.

Even if your school district doesn’t qualify for a high discount percentage on Priority Two services, apply anyway, Stephens recommended. Every year, there is some funding that is committed, but never used for one reason or another. After the deadlines pass, that money can be rolled forward for redistribution.

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