By Jon Castelhano, CIO Advisor
Anyone who is familiar with the E-rate program has hopefully stayed on top of the modernization efforts and countless opinions, informational webinars, and meetings with E-rate consultants concerning the changes. E-rate works in the past, present, and future, and during this time of year is when we prepare for the filing of next year's funding requests. Even though I personally have stayed abreast of the changes, the reality of the phase down and elimination of services gives me mixed emotions about some of the modernization efforts.
The E-rate program has been around for the last 17 years and it is true that during this time the program has remained relatively unchanged. With any program, change must be a part of the road map to ensure you are keeping up with the ever-changing landscape that is necessary to remain relevant. The overall goals of the modernization do make sense and I applaud their acknowledgement, but they come at the expense of existing areas of the program that school districts for better or worse have come to rely upon. A few of the affected areas for phasing down and elimination for 2015 include support for voice services, certain phone features, e-mail, web hosting, voicemail and data plans.
Priority 2 services, now known as Category 2, will focus on internal connections to provide wi-fi connectivity within your buildings. As a district we have not seen Priority 2 funding for many years due to our eligible rate falling under the percentage awarded, so the per-student formula is a bright spot. However, much of the controversy surrounding the modernization effort revolves around how funding will be sustainable in this area. At this time, the Category 2 funding plan is based on a 5-year budget and depending on who you speak with, only the first two years of funding is guaranteed. If you have not begun to review your existing network infrastructure or plan to implement wireless, now is the time.
There are so many things to discuss concerning the modernization plan, both on a political and philosophical level, that I could continue on for pages. I feel there is valid argument for the continued funding of a couple of the services being eliminated and the importance of having a long-range plan for Category 2. The conversation about phaseouts and elimination is over, but there is still time to ask questions and advocate for a more solid long-range plan for infrastructure hardware. At any rate, if you do not work with an E-rate consultant or do not have a strong group of peers that can assist you through the filing process in this time of change, I would suggest reaching out so that your district can best plan your approach for 2015. Good luck!