The Schools and Libraries Division released the final wave of funding commitments for the 1998 E-rate funding year Feb. 26, bringing to $1.66 billion the amount the program has committed to support advanced telecommunications services and wiring improvements in the nation's schools and libraries.
"The future is now," said SLD President Kate Moore. "This commitment of $1.66 billion will enable thousands of students and library patrons to leapfrog into the realm of Internet connectivity which would have otherwise taken years to reach. The result will be a more highly educated society and a more competitive workforce."
Since the SLD began mailing commitments in late November 1998, it has provided $661.2 million in support for telecommunications services, $101.8 million in support for Internet access and $897 million in support for internal connections. The SLD was able to support internal connections requests from all applicants with a discount rate of 70 percent or higher.
Moore said that the SLD has retained $220 million to cover potential appeals and the amount necessary to extend support to June 30, 1999, for telecommunications services and Internet access contracts that expired before Dec. 31, 1998. The Council of Chief State School Officers has petitioned the FCC, arguing that these applicants were unfairly penalized when the FCC permitted applicants with contracts expiring on or after Dec. 31, 1998 to receive six more months of funding. Moore did not disclose how much had been set aside for each pool.
In addition, the SLD will use $45 million to fund its own operations from November 1997 to June 30, 1999. Moore said that 27 percent of that amount would support one-time, start-up costs for the division.
Of the 30,121 applications that were filed in last year's window period, the SLD was able to fund 25,785. The rest were not funded either because applicants had sought funding for services that were ineligible or because they were below the cutoff point for internal connections requests. According to SLD figures, 53 percent of the applicants were from urban areas, and 43 percent were from rural areas. Sixty-seven percent of the funding went to urban applicants and 22 percent to rural applicants. The SLD said the remainder of the applications could not be characterized because the applicant had filed on behalf of other entities.
The final wave, Wave 10, included some of the largest, most complicated applications. The 1,135 funding commitments totaled $257.3 million, for an average commitment of $226,687, or about two and a half times the size of the average commitment in the last few waves.
Although all of the funding commitments have now been distributed, progress is slower in terms of distributing money. As of last week, the SLD had authorized the Universal Service Administrative Company to cut $47.7 million worth of reimbursement checks and approved $5.38 million in prospective discounts on service provider invoices.
The SLD is expected to soon publicize a process through which applicants can inquire if they have not received a response on an application filed during last year's filing window.
Measuring the Impact
Supporters of the E-rate program are eager to find ways to measure the program's positive impact-and at a press briefing marking the end of the funding commitment process, SLD officials suggested one.
The SLD has reviewed the numbers that successful internal connections applicants supplied on their applications, when asked to indicate how many additional rooms they would be wiring with their E-rate support. Among public schools applicants who received internal connections support, the SLD calculated that an additional 647,498 classrooms would be connected (out of a nationwide total of 2.4 million classrooms). Among libraries, another 5,817 buildings would be wired, and among private schools, another 79,281 classrooms.
The SLD cautioned, however, that this was an imperfect analysis because it took the maximum additional number of rooms that an applicant had listed when it filed several applications. If applicants did not receive the full amount of funding they requested, it noted, it was possible they had wired fewer rooms. Further, there was no way to determine what percentage of rooms would have been wired anyway, even if the applicant had not received E-rate support.
On Feb. 26, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported that the percentage of classrooms wired to the Internet had grown from 27 percent in October 1997 to 51 percent in October 1998.
The Numbers for Next Year
As E-rate applicants get word about their funding for 1998, applications are rolling in for the 1999-2000 funding year.
SLD officials said that as of Feb. 25, they had received 28,823 Form 470 applications for new and existing services. That number compares with 36,243 applications that were filed in the funding window last year. As of that same date, 2,192 Form 471 applications have also been completed for the 1999-2000 filing year.
SLD President Kate Moore said the division would soon issue its insights on its experience in Year One and the most common mistakes that applicants made.
Fishman Recognized at CoSN Meeting
Former Schools and Libraries Corporation CEO Ira Fishman was invited to attend a meeting of the Private Industry Council at the recent annual conference of the Consortium for School Networking in Washington. Fishman's work on behalf of schools and libraries was recognized by CoSN chairman James Bosco at the session.
Fishman is now working for Winslow Partners, a private equity investment firm founded by Kenneth Brody. Brody was the independent member of the SLC board of directors before his seat was abolished when the SLC was merged with the Universal Service Administrative Company.