The long-awaited application forms for the federal government’s E-rate program are finally being mailed to the schools and libraries that will have to complete them. But at several forums this week, including a Dec. 11 technology conference and television broadcast sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education, interested stakeholders got a briefing on what was involved in completing them.
There were few surprises for those who have tracked the evolution of the E-rate program over the past few months. However, a reading of the applications, the accompanying instructions and briefings by officials from the Schools and Libraries Corporation and the Federal Communications Commission provided these specifics:
- Schools and libraries who are applying for discounts solely to support basic voice telephone services will not have to get a technology plan approved or demonstrate their ability to make effective use of eligible services by providing such things as staff development.
- Schools and libraries will not have to have an approved technology plan to file an application for services. They will, however, need their plan approved by the time they want to start receiving funding.
- Schools and libraries will be asked to produce information on the number of phones, computers, video conferencing links, connected buildings, connected classrooms and dial-up connections they have and want.
- School districts and other consortia will be required to provide information on the discount rates of individual schools when services are supplied to a specific site, but can use an average discount rate when services are shared among facilities. Schools also must acknowledge that their discount level for shared services is conditional, in future years, upon ‘ensuring that the most disadvantaged schools and libraries that are treated as sharing in the service receive an appropriate share of benefits from those services.” SLC members had wanted to ensure that school districts could not benefit from the more-generous discount rates of their most impoverished schools without supplying services to them.
- Telephone services provided under a tariff will be eligible for support. Applicants will simply provide slightly different information on their applications for services that are under tariff instead of a contract.
In a presentation about the applications, SLC officials named some new services to their list of ‘eligible” and ‘ineligible” services. Private branch exchange (PBX) services were added to the list of eligible internal connections, while cable modems, cameras and firewalls were put on the ‘ineligible” list.
The application forms will soon be available online from the Web site of the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), which is http://www.neca.org. The SLC wants to encourage electronic filing, though applicants will be required to send in a hard copy of their signature. Vendors will be able to review the applications once the SLC’s Web site becomes operational, probably in mid-January. That date will also trigger the start of the first 75-day filing window.
FCC attorney Irene Flannery told the Virginia gathering that the FCC expected to issue a reconsideration order before Christmas that would address a number of issues that must be resolved before the program can start, including questions surrounding state-run telecommunications networks, the extent of eligibility for wide area networks, master contracts, how to aggregate discount rates, and whether the definition of eligible existing contracts will be changed.
The SLC also announced that it has set up a toll-free number, staffed by customer service people in Iowa and New Jersey, to field questions about the program. The number is 888-203-8100.