Ensuring Your School Stays Connected

The E-rate program -- the FCC program that helps school and library communities get cost-effective access to the internet and other telecommunications services, says it is continuing to process applications for funding assistance.

Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which administers the E-rate funding under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission, updated its website to inform schools and other stakeholders that the agency remains open during the 2020 coronavirus outbreak.

“While the way we work has changed, USAC will conduct the regular and ongoing work administering the Universal Service Fund,” the website said.

“This includes processing and reviewing program applications, collecting contributions, disbursing payments, and implementing program guidance from the FCC.”

The program has served 128,147 school and library communities, and more than $2.28 billion was committed to applicants for the funding year 2019, according to the USAC website. 

How it Works

The E-Rate program helps schools and libraries stay connected through its discounts for telecommunications services and internet access.  

Eligible services for a 20 to 90 percent discount rate include internal connections, managed internal broadband services and basic maintenance of internal connections.   

The discounts you’ll receive depend on the level of poverty and the urban/rural status at the school district in your area, the USAC says.

Eligible participants include public and most non-profit K-12 schools as well as all public and many private libraries. Program participants must carry out a competitive bidding process to select the most cost-effective choice among the providers for the services requested.

The Process

Schools and libraries can apply individually or as part of a consortium. It’s a multistep process, from getting competitive bids and documentation to invoicing.

In an overview of the process, the USAC outlines six steps: Competitive Bidding, Selecting Service Provider, Applying for Discounts, Applications Review, Starting Services and Invoicing.

"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.

Community Access During Closures

With school and library closures -- and schools moving to online classes -- during the coronavirus outbreak, the FCC recently announced that community use of E-rate supported networks would be permitted.

“Libraries can allow the public to access E-rate funded services even when they are closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the FCC said.

“Similarly, closed schools may allow access to E-rate–funded services to community members who access the internet while on a school's campus so long as the schools do not charge for the use of the service, community access to Internet services in parking lots or other nearby locations.”

In response, E-Rate Central, a consulting firm that helps E-rate applications with compliance and forms processing services, said, “Given the FCC’s apparent accommodation, some schools and libraries have or are planning steps to further expand community and student Internet resources by increasing bandwidth, adding higher-powered WAPs to the exterior of their buildings, or perhaps linking to mobile hotspots throughout their communities.”