4 Things to Know Before Applying for E-rate Funding

Having reliable internet access and other technology to support mobile computing devices and digital learning in classrooms has become top priority for schools across the U.S., and the E-rate program can help fund your efforts to get and stay connected.

The FCC’s School and Libraries program, better known as the E-rate program, provides discounts to help schools and libraries cover the costs of internet access and telecommunications services. You can apply individually or as part of a consortium. 

Here are 4 things to know about applying for E-rate funding for your school, district or library.

The Source of Assistance. 

There are several sources available to help schools with internet access, including grants, but the U.S. Department of Education does not provide funding for connectivity at schools, says edtech specialist Sheryl Abshire, Ph.D., in an eSchool News article.

The E-rate program was started by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to specifically help schools and libraries get cost-effective access to technologies that bolster their network infrastructures and prepare and meet educational requirements.

The effort is part of a collective push by groups like the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, as well as state and school leaders and other policymakers and advocates, to get all schools across the U.S. connected to reliable broadband.

And with many states requiring new online assessments, it’s even more critical that students, as well as educators, have access to digital technology in their classrooms. 

“Children cannot learn skills for tomorrow with dial-up speeds from the past,” the EducationSuperHighway says on its website.

The Process is Improving.

Since being overhauled in 2014 to expand the assistance, the E-rate program has improved its process to help more schools and libraries take advantage of digital learning.

The Universal Services Administrative Co. (USAC), which administers the federal E-rate program, said it received 35,000 applications in 2018 for a total of $2.77 billion. 

The first funding commitment wave -- 15,000 applications (or 43% of the applications) and more than $503 million in funding requests -- was issued within 30 days of the window closing. By the beginning of June 2018, the USAC said it had committed $1 billion on 18,000 applications.

What You Get. 

Discounts range from 20-90 percent of the costs of eligible services, “depending on the level of poverty and the urban/rural status at the school district level,” the USAC says.

Eligible schools and libraries can get discounts on telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access, as well as internal connections, managed internal broadband services and basic maintenance of internal connections.

And although E-rate funding doesn’t cover device purchases or professional development for digital learning, the assistance can free up other money for those purposes, says Abshire in the eSchool News article.

It’s a Multistep Process. 

The E-rate application is a multistep process, from getting competitive bids and documentation to invoicing.

In its overview for E-rate applicants, the USAC outlines six steps: Competitive Bidding, Selecting Service Provider, Applying for Discounts, Applications Review, Starting Services and Invoicing.

The website, which has all the necessary forms, helps you navigate through the funding process.

“To succeed, applicants must plan and multitask well, meet deadlines and keep good documentation,” advises a post on EdTech News

After services are started, either the service provider or applicant can submit requests to USAC for reimbursement of the approved discounts.

If you haven’t applied yet, check out the USAC website or contact us directly to learn more.