The E-rate program is a different animal now than a year ago. The last few filing windows under the old program rules were focused on Priority One services, with an E-rate program that was under-funded and unable to address applicant Priority Two needs.

In the past few years many applicants rightly determined that the resources, time and effort for a Priority Two funding request wasn’t worthwhile, given the slim chances of receiving a funding commitment and the lengthy review timeline.

Now the priorities of the E-rate program have shifted. The program used to prioritize voice and broadband services, leaving the meager leftovers for equipment and maintenance services. The new E‑rate program has thrown its weight behind broadband – both service to the building and connectivity within local networks.

It’s time for applicants to evaluate their funding priorities as well. Important budgetary decisions will take into account the decrease of funding for voice services and the increased opportunity for discounts on equipment purchases, network management services and maintenance. The E-rate fund has been increased substantially to meet applicant funding needs. The status quo has been changed at the program level, and successful applicants will adapt their E-rate application strategies to address the changes head-on.

Budget caps on Category Two purchases will serve to define the extent of support that schools and libraries can receive from E-rate discounts. Having an accurate estimate of the budgets for your sites will be crucial to helping you determine your timelines and expectations for Category Two applications. Our Category Two Budget Calculator can give estimates based on the data from your FY 2014 application, or the enrollment/square-footage data that you enter yourself.

Whether you are planning to apply this year or to seek Category Two in Funding Year 2016, educating yourself with accurate assessments will help to give a clear picture for your opportunities for E-rate discounts on the network equipment and on-campus services that you need. Take the time now to see what your sites can do with the new E-rate program rules.