What is the E-Rate Program?

Kids today are more technologically advanced than any generation before. They’re learning how to put together digital slide presentations as early as kindergarten, and in many schools, projects, assignments, and homework are now completed entirely online. Laptops and tablets in classrooms are becoming the norm. This means quality internet access in schools and libraries is a necessity. If your facility struggles to meet students’ needs, the E-Rate program can help.

Making Services Accessible

To ensure that everyone has fair access to information and life-long learning, the FCC introduced the E-Rate program, which connects libraries and schools like yours to broadband services by providing discounts to offset the cost. When the program launched in 1996, only about 14 percent of K-12 schools were providing students with internet access. Fortunately, the E-Rate program has made online connectivity more accessible than ever.

Your school or library may be eligible for discounts on internet services of 20 to 90 percent. If you’re in a rural or high poverty area, your discount is likely to be significant. Your facility will have to absorb some portion of the cost, but the E-Rate program can make a big difference in the quality of internet services you’re able to provide your students.

As demand has grown, the program has continually evolved. For example, the FCC has expanded the E-Rate program to include Wi-Fi networks to provide greater reach. More options are becoming available so that schools and libraries can choose the most cost-effective solutions to meet their needs. 

How Can Your Facility Get Funding?

If your school or library could benefit from assistance to help cover the cost of internet services, the E-Rate program is a great option. You’ll first need to submit a request for bids from participating vendors using FCC Form 470 through the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The USAC posts your request, and vendors then submit bids for your account. You’ll have the opportunity to review all offers and select the vendor who best meets your needs. 

Once you’ve chosen a vendor, the next step is to apply to the USAC for approval of funding. Services are provided and you either pay the vendor in full and the USAC issues you a refund, or you pay the vendor the discounted rate and USAC reimburses the vendor directly. 

The fiscal year for funding through the E-Rate program runs from July through June annually. The amount of your discount is based on an evaluation of your needs, with priority given to the highest poverty areas, then the next highest, and so on until the cap has been met. As of 2015, the FCC capped annual funding at $3.9 billion, indexed to inflation going forward.

Are Phone Services Covered as Well?

While the E-Rate program began with a focus on telecommunications, voice services are being phased out of the program so it can better support the need for high-speed broadband and digital learning resources. Discounts for voice services will no longer be offered for fiscal year 2019. However, in some cases, data plans and air cards for mobile devices may be covered, but this is determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Where Can I Find More Information? 

The E-Rate program is an important part of ensuring everyone has access to the opportunities the internet provides. If your facility could use help covering the costs of high-speed connectivity, this program can help. More information about the options available for schools and libraries is available at https://www.usac.org/sl/