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More Details Provided on Next Phase of E-rate

The Federal Communications Commission June 22 provided more details of its earlier decision to make changes in the timetable and funding level for the E-rate program. As previously announced, the commission extended the 1998 funding year through June 30, 1999, and specified that telecommunications services and Internet access will continue to be supported for that time period for all applicants who filed during the initial filing window. Requests for support for internal connections will be funded for the neediest applicants.

The so-called Fifth Order on Reconsideration supplied these new details:

  • The filing window for the funding year that will begin July 1, 1999 will begin "no later than Oct. 1" of this year. The FCC left it up to the Schools and Libraries Corporation to determine how long the filing window should be.
  • Before approving requests for internal connections support, the FCC will set aside enough funding to support the requests of all applicants for telecommunications services and Internet access. Then it will turn to internal connections requests, supporting first those at the 90 percent discount level, then those at the 80 percent level and so forth until there is not enough money left to support the requests of the next discount level. Requests at that level will be supported on a pro-rata basis, based on the size of the request and the amount of funding that is left. For instance, if there is $800,000 worth of requests at the 70 percent discount level, but only $100,000 left, the FCC would provide one-eighth of the amount requested by each applicant at that discount level.
  • The FCC said that to accomplish the transition to a funding year that begins in July it will allow applicants to extend voluntarily contracts that expire between Dec. 31, 1998 and June 30, 1999 through June 30, 1999. However, the FCC did not provide any specific guidance to applicants whose pre-existing contracts expire after the filing window and before Dec. 31, 1998.

The FCC also, for the first time, specifically said it would only support applications that were filed during the initial filing window, which ended April 15. It had been anticipated that requests made during that time period would exceed the available funds anyway. The FCC also said that funding commitments would not be distributed until "July 1998, at the earliest."

In other news, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission marked up its fiscal 1999 appropriations bill, but apparently took no action to restrict the E-rate program.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the chairman of the full committee, had threatened to offer an amendment that would bar the FCC from administering the program. However, an aide to another subcommittee member reported after the session that no action had been taken on the program.

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