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SLC Proposes Extending 1998 Program Year

The Schools and Libraries Corporation has proposed to the Federal Communications Commission extending the 1998 E-rate program year to June 30, 1999 "to enable the beneficiaries to plan the installation and maintenance of the supported services in a more efficient and organized manner."

Under the SLC proposal, monthly charges for telecommunications services and Internet access would continue to be paid through the first six months of 1999. If the proposal is adopted, it appears that new requests for support for internal connections would not be funded until July 1999.

Under the proposal, requests for funding for the year running from July 1999 to June 2000 would not be accepted until "late fall" of this year. Under the schedule that is now in place, the SLC was to start accepting applications this July 1 for a program year that was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 1999.

The FCC has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday June 9 at which time it is expected to make several key decisions on the E-rate program, including the level of funding available for 1998. An SLC spokeswoman indicated that it was expected that the FCC would also decide whether to accept the SLC's proposal. It was unclear whether the SLC would support only those applications that were filed during its initial 75-day filing window, or whether funds would be available to support later applications. However, if the proposal is accepted, it would appear to delay opportunities for new applicants for another six months.

The distinction between funding for telecommunications services and Internet access on the one hand and internal connections on the other would mark the first time a distinction has been made between those services, with the exception of allowing applicants to accept telephone service at a non-contracted tariffed rate.

Another key component of the SLC's proposal would let applicants voluntarily extend contracts that expire between Jan. 1, 1999 and June 30, 1999 up to June 30, 1999. Under current regulations, existing contracts cannot be extended voluntarily, but must be posted on the SLC Web site so that other companies can have the chance to bid on them. It was unclear what position the SLC would take on contracts that were in place before its Web site was launched, but were set to expire sometime after the filing window closed on April 15, 1998.

The SLC spokeswoman cautioned that the proposal was not final, and that the corporation would not be publicizing it until the FCC made a final decision.

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