Changes Coming to E-Rate Program

E-Rate changesAs an E-Rate specialist, I help clients make sense of what can be a confusing program. I recently shared this information about important changes to the E-Rate program with my clients, and am happy to share it here today as well.

On July 11, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced steps to modernize the E-Rate program and expand access to digital learning technologies by providing support for Wi-Fi networks in schools and libraries. The program increases focus on the largest and most urgent needs – closing the Wi-Fi gap – while transitioning support away from legacy technologies to 21st century broadband connectivity (Internet access), ensuring E-Rate Program money is spent smartly and improving program administration.

Funding for broadband connectivity will continue to be provided but non-broadband services will be gradually phased out. It’s still unclear if that means all non-broadband services will be affected and how the phase out will be implemented.

We will provide more details as they are announced later this year.

Closes the Wi-Fi Gap

– Sets an annual funding target of $1 billion for Wi-Fi while ensuring support continues to be available for broadband connectivity to schools and libraries.

– Directs at least $1 billion in support for Wi-Fi for funding years 2015 and 2016 to connect over 10 million students and thousands of libraries each year by establishing reasonable budgets for applicants.

– Allows support for Wi-Fi purchased as a managed service and caching servers through the new internal connections funding mechanism.

– Continued use of new Wi-Fi funding methodology after funding year 2016 will be evaluated as part of a review of the long-term funding needs of the program.

– Increases support targeted for Wi-Fi in rural school districts substantially – a nearly 75 percent increase; and targets a nearly 60 percent increase in urban and suburban districts.

– Begins a multi-year transition of all program funding to broadband, by gradually phasing down support for non-broadband services.

– Adopts clear broadband goals to measure overall program success, while maintaining local flexibility to determine the needs of individual schools and libraries.

Maximizes E-Rate Spending

– Incentivizes consortia and bulk purchasing.

– Increases transparency on how E-Rate dollars are spent and on prices charged for E-Rate services.

Makes the E-Rate Administration and Application Processes Faster, Simpler, More Efficient

– Streamlines the process for multi-year applications.

– Expedites process for small dollar, cost-effective applications.

– Speeds review of all applications.

– Moves to electronic filing of all documents.

– Simplifies discount calculations.

– Strengthens efforts to combat waste, fraud and abuse by toughening document retention and site inspection rules.

This administrative review is already delivering huge dividends

– More funds: The FCC identified $2 billion that could be freed from existing reserve accounts and other sources over the next two years toward an initial down payment on broadband expansion. The $2 billion for Wi-Fi over the next two years comes from these reclaimed reserves.

Brings E-Rate into the 21st Century

– New digital learning technologies are opening new opportunities for students, teachers and library patrons.

– In schools, emerging educational technology allows an increasingly interactive and individualized learning environment and expands school boundaries through distance learning applications.

– The plummeting costs of tablets and netbooks, increasing Wi-Fi speeds, and innovative cloud-based software are allowing this technological transformation of learning, much of which would have been impossible five years ago.

Too many U.S. schools and libraries lack the infrastructure necessary to fully utilize today’s learning technologies particularly when it comes to Wi-Fi in the classroom.

– Three out of five schools in America lack the Wi-Fi needed to deploy 21st century educational tools.

– Half of school buildings have older, slower internal wiring that won’t carry data at today’s broadband speeds.

Greg Lowry is a Schooley Mitchell consultant based in San Francisco, Calif. His areas of expertise include supplier negotiation, billing analysis and contract optimization, business continuity planning, and sales and business development consulting.