The leadership of the Schools and Libraries Corporation is being careful about what it says about two key dates for E-rate applicants: when the application forms will be available and when the SLC's Web site will become operational.
The launch of the Web site is important because it will trigger the start of the 75-day window during which all Form 471 requests for specific E-rate funding will be given equal priority. On Nov. 6, the Federal Communications Commission accepted the SLC board's recommendation on the length of the funding window. After the 75 days, applications will be treated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Following the SLC board's Nov. 17 meeting, CEO Ira Fishman distributed a letter to schools, libraries and vendors that said that the earliest date by which the developers of the SLC Web site believed they would be able to finish their work was the week of Jan. 12, 1998.
The developers had said previously that the job was held up by delays associated with finalizing the application forms on which their data bases would be based. The new date was nearly a month later than the Dec. 15 date that several speakers on E-rate panels at the National School Boards Association's annual Technology & Learning Conference had predicted just weeks before.
Fishman's letter said, "Our systems contractor is working full-out to finish the Web site. . . . It of course is critical that when the Web site opens, we have done all that is reasonable to ensure that it is accurate and reliable."
Fishman's letter asserted, however, that funding would be provided retroactive to Jan. 1, 1998 "for qualified existing contracts, or to the start date of a school or library's contract with its provider for new contracts, whichever is later."
On the question of when the application forms would be available, Fishman told the SLC board that they had been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review, but did not specify when they would be made public. He said they would be released as soon as the SLC has "any reasonable level of customer service support."