Now that the FCC ruling has been issued, many questions loom about E-rate discounts for technology connections in schools and libraries.
Every classroom in America must be connected to the information superhighway with computers and good software and well-trained teachers. --President Clinton, State of the Union Address, January 1997
On May 7, Americas classrooms took a giant step toward connecting to the information superhighway: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its long-awaited ruling on Universal Service. The Universal Service program will provide significant discounts---called E-rate discounts---to enable schools, libraries, and rural health service organizations to hook up to the information superhighway.
Many people and organizations are working feverishly to make sense of the ruling for their constituents and to see it implemented in communities across the United States. Among the groups that spearheaded the E-rate discount campaign was the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). The AASA continues to work as the E-rate formula is debated. Kari Arfstrom, AASA legislative specialist expects the formula to be finalized soon and that a discount application form might be ready as early as September.
Arfstrom will present the latest E-rate information on July 14 at AASAs Rural and Small Schools Summer Conference in Vail, Colorado.
In addition, Arfstrom notes, The AASA, the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), and various state associations are joining together to present regional E-rate workshops to educate school administrators and interested educators on how to obtain the discounts."
"The FCC ruling is a positive first step," says Karen Smith, executive director of the U.S. Tech Corps (Framingham, Mass.), the nonprofit group that helps organize NetDays around the country. However, getting technology into all schools, and then into all classrooms, is going to depend on a lot of initiatives, and all must build on one another, Smith told scholastic.com. The four pillars of the 21st Century Teachers Initiative---connectivity, computers, competency, and content---are all vital. In terms of the next step, the important thing will be the training."
A FEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE FCC RULING
How much money will this ruling make available to schools and libraries?
The fund will make available $2.25 billion per year nationwide.
How much of a discount will my school or library receive?
K-12 schools and libraries will be eligible for 20 to 90 percent discounts based on the percent of students eligible for the national school lunch program. According to the discount matrix (see below) that appeared in the FCC order (Paragraph 520), about 70 percent of schools will be eligible for discounts of at least 50 percent.
|% students eligible for national school lunch program||% of U.S. Schools in category||Urban discount (%)||Rural Discount
|less than 1%
What if the money runs out?
The first $2 billion will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis each year. After that, special priority rules take effect. If all the money is not used, the balance will be added to the next years available fund.
What services will the fund cover?
The fund will cover services that include basic telephone service needed for access to technology; advanced telecommunications services; Internet services; and the internal connections, network hardware (examples: routers, hubs, and servers), and needed wiring to provide access to the information superhighway.
Which services wont the fund cover?
Among the equipment/services not covered by the fund are computers, fax machines, telephones, voice messaging, training, and consultant services.
What if my school is already connected? Are we eligible to apply
for these fund to cover services we use?
When will the E-rate discount funds be available?
January 1, 1998. [Note: Legal challenges to the FCC ruling might impact that date.]
Formulas must be finalized, application forms must be approved, and each state must prepare guidelines to implement the ruling. School and library administrators should be sure they have in place technology plans, including descriptions of services theyll need to accomplish their plans. (Note: When formulating plans, those involved should consider where funds to support technology will come from if the fund is ever dissolved.)
Article by Gary Hopkins
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