Assessing eRate 2.0
Recently, many schools have come to the conclusion that the eRate program, although well-intentioned, has become less and less fruitful. The processes of planning, application, and support documentation have become a tremendous burden. Since the creation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the eventual eRate program order in May of the following year, eRate has consistently provided schools with the financial means to implement telecommuting technology on a campus-wide scale. However, the last couple of years, as the eRate program became more popular and the needs of schools have increased, the program has repeatedly run dry of funds. Schools were faced with an unfavorable “Funding Commitment Decision Letter,” which indicated that they were denied due to program funding limitations. Since eRate puts a priority on certain monthly services (ie. ISP, voice, and cell services), schools have come to the conclusion that it is either only worthwhile to seek those particular funds or forego the application process altogether.
However, on July 23, 2014 the FCC enacted an eRate modernization order, which included many new changes to the program, its review, and its funding methodologies. Although the core intent of providing a funding vehicle to districts to enable a connected classroom did not change, the modernization order has forced an “upgrade” to the program to cut costs and waste and, ultimately, provide more of those previously elusive eRate dollars. In November of the same year, the FCC chairman announced the addition of $1.5 billion to the fund, bringing the total available monies from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. These modifications have changed the eRate program dramatically. One of the many significant of all the sweeping changes was the cap of $150.00 per student per 5 year cycle for “Priority 2” funding. Based on these changes, the eRate of today should provide an easier means for districts to seek funding for major technology-related infrastructure enhancements.
What does this mean for districts seeking eRate help to connect a campus? Be sure to check back next week and I’ll tell you!