Final forms are now available for applying for E-Rate discounts. Are you aware of that and of other recently released E-rate resources?
Final forms for applying for "E-Rate" discounts on telecommunications services for schools and libraries are now available on the U.S. Department of Education Web site, according to a press release issued last month.
In addition to the 2 forms (Form FCC 470 and 471), you'll find instructions for filling out the forms and an overview of the program. This overview includes information about
On May 7, 1997, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Universal Service Order implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Order ensures that all eligible schools and libraries have affordable access to modern telecommunications and information services. Up to $2.25 billion annually is available to provide eligible schools and libraries with discounts, often referred to as the "E-rate," for authorized services, beginning January 1, 1998.
Level of Discounts. Discounts range from 20 percent to 90 percent, depending on economic need and location (urban or rural). The level of discount is based upon the percentage of students eligible for participation in the federal free and reduced price school lunch program. Libraries will use the school lunch eligibility percentage and urban/rural status for their local school district.
Services Eligible for Discount. Discounts can be applied to all commercially available telecommunications services, Internet access, and internal connections. Discounts are available in all states, as long as the state adopts intrastate discount levels at least equal to the federal discounts.
Application Process. Discounts will be applied as of January 1, 1998, for qualified pre-existing contracts. For contracts covering new services with approved discounts, the discounts will be applied as of the date the contract is signed. A technology plan must be developed, and approved by an independent agency, such as a state education or library agency, or the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC). Eligible institutions must submit a self-certification of eligibility (attesting that all criteria have been met) to the SLC along with a description of the services requested. The percentage discount mechanism for administering this program means that this program is not a grant program. Schools and libraries are required to pay only the "non-discounted" portion of their costs for telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections. The discounted portions of the services are directly applied to reduce the bills to be paid by schools and libraries and these amounts will be reimbursed directly to the service providers from the fund administrator. Requiring schools and libraries to pay a share of the costs from their own funds is intended to insure cost-effective purchases.
Fund Administration. SLC, a newly formed independent not-for-profit entity established by FCC rules, has responsibility for administering the schools and libraries program. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), a subsidiary of the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), has been named by the FCC as the interim, overall administrator of Universal Service Fund collection and distribution.
Disbursement of Funds. Once an application has been accepted and approved, the schools and libraries will apply the applicable discount to their telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections, and pay the remaining portion of the costs to the service providers. The service providers will seek reimbursement from the SLC for the cost of the discounts.
The SLC issued three documents on November 20. All three documents are available online:
Below are the "Nine Steps You Can Take Now to Prepare for the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Program." (Three footnotes are not included here but are included on the web.)
All eligible entities must submit three separate forms to the SLC in sequential order to participate in the Universal Service Program. These forms: (1) describe the services that a school or library (or school district or library system) intends to purchase; (2) detail the services for which a contract has been signed; and (3) confirm that these services have been provided.
Entities will need to collect the following important information to complete the first two forms:
Applicant Data: Ascertain
Student or Library Patron Data: Ascertain
Telecommunications Services Data: Ascertain
Internal Connections Data: Ascertain
Internet Access Data: Ascertain
Technology Assessment Data: Ascertain
Consortium Data: Ascertain
Technology Plan Data: Ascertain
Contract(s) Data: Ascertain
Article by Gary Hopkins, Editor-in-Chief
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