Getting started: Your E‑rate cheat sheet

It’s that time of year again–the federal E-rate program is getting underway, and with program updates and refreshes in recent years, you might need a primer on this year’s program.

The E-rate program helps schools and libraries access high-speed internet and telecommunications at prices that won’t break the bank.

At the end of 2014, the Federal Communications Commission voted to increase funding to the federal E-rate program by $1.5 billion. The vote brought the annual program cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion.

Supporters of the increase noted that the additional funding was critical to a program that can address so many troubling gaps in schools and libraries across the nation, including gaps in internet access, anytime anywhere learning, and connected devices.

Here are some of the program basics you know to get started in a new E-rate funding year.

First, according to the Schools and Libraries department in the Universal Services Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate, those interested in E-rate funding should determine their eligibility. This generally means meeting the program’s definition of a school or library. State departments of education and state libraries can offer guidance if needed.

Eligible services are also important. The E-rate program’s Eligible Services Overview gives applicants a cursory understanding of the products, equipment and services that are eligible for discounted funding. Discounts can range from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of eligible services, and applicants can refer to resources that help them determine discount percentages.

Once eligibility is squared away, E-rate applicants should review the application process, which involves competitive bidding for services. Applicants sign a contract with the most cost-effective bidder, and once that service agreement is established, USAC issues the applicant a funding commitment and the applicant begins receiving service discounts.

Funding falls under two categories of service: Category One services include Data Transmission Services and Internet Access, and Voice Services. Category Two services include Internal Connections, Managed Internal Broadband Services, and Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections. Discounts for support depend on the service category, the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the appropriate school district.

Applicants can access recent E-rate webinar recordings, can subscribe to weekly newsletters with updates about the E-rate program, and can learn about E-rate training sessions and events that are held at various locations across the country.

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Laura Ascione
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