The federal E-rate program provides more than $2.25 billion annually for services and products that are essential for schools and libraries to receive voice, data and Internet communications. The E-rate, which started in 1998, is the single largest source of recurring K-12 technology funding in the country, according to Funds for Learning (www.fundsforlearning.com), which provides support services that help schools stay compliant with E -rate regulations.
To further promote Internet connectivity across the country, the FCC in September 2010 released the National Broadband Orders. The Orders affect a number of different government programs, but none as strongly as E-rate.
The most substantial changes to the program such as indexing the annual funding cap to inflation and the codifying of the gift rules went into effect earlier this year. However, there are some aspects of the Order that are scheduled to take effect this summer.
Two of the changes that are scheduled to go into effect on July 1, are the expanded access to low-cost fiber optic data networks and the elimination of the technology plan requirement for telecommunications and Internet access.
With the Order, applicants can lease dark or lit fiber optic networks from any provider of services, even if the provider is not a traditional telephone company. This change will allow applicants to choose the most cost effective services that best meet their needs.
Another change that will see an increase in participation after July 1 is the new rules regarding technology plans. Under the new rules, a technology plan is no longer required for telecommunications and Internet access services. Applicants must still budget funds and competitively bid these services, but will no longer need a specific technology plan for using these services.
Good planning and timely application submission help applicants succeed. Effective E-rate applicants stay abreast of these changes and others like them that are sure to come.