The FCC’s E-rate program has helped schools and libraries gain affordable access to telecommunications equipment for almost two decades. Over those 18+ years, technology has changed quite a bit. To get ahead of changing demands and requirements as schools, libraries and other public entities move to digital learning and collaboration, the FCC adopted an E-rate Modernization Order that changes the way E-rate funding will work going forward.
The Order includes several changes, the most important of them being the expansion of Wi-Fi networks in schools and libraries across America and the phasing out of money for traditional telephone services.
Ronald Sheps, director of public sector programs for Comstor, recently shared a high-level view of the E-rate changes, outlined the timeline for proposals for funding, and offered tips for navigating the process to Comstor partners in his “Navigate the Complexities of E-rate 2.0 with Comstor Public Sector” webinar.
Of note, Sheps said that under the E-rate Modernization Order, the FCC has allocated an additional $1 billion over the next two years to improve and expand Wi-Fi networks inside our nation’s schools and libraries, presenting tremendous opportunities to sell Wi-Fi hardware, software, security, and services. Specifically, the FCC E-rate Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) state that going forward E-rate will:
- Set an annual funding target of $1 billion for Wi-Fi while ensuring support continues to be available for broadband connectivity to schools and libraries
- Direct at least $1 billion in support for Wi-Fi for Funding Years 2015 and 2016 to connect over 10 million students and thousands of libraries each year by establishing reasonable budgets for applicants
- Allow support for Wi-Fi purchased as a managed service and caching servers through the new internal connections funding mechanism
- Increase support targeted for Wi-Fi in rural school districts substantially – a nearly 75 percent increase; and targets a nearly 60 percent increase in urban and suburban districts
- Begin a multi-year transition of all program funding to broadband, by gradually phasing down support for non-broadband services
- Adopt clear broadband goals to measure overall program success, while maintaining local flexibility to determine the needs of individual schools and libraries
The FNPRM will also incentivize consortia and bulk purchasing; streamline the process for multi-year applications; move to electronic filing of all documents; and increase transparency into how E-rate dollars are spent on prices charged for E-rate services.
Sheps also said that there will be increased focus on rural and tribal schools. He advises partners to identify the markets they can serve, saying there are approximately 15,800 school districts in America – a huge opportunity for Comstor partners. To help partners determine their next steps, he outlined the timeline for how schools plan for E-rate funding.
During the fall, schools have been preparing technology plans or making plan updates and outlining their needs for next year. They also should have been establishing consortia, reviewing the new E-rate rules, and preparing their RFPs. As we head into the winter months, schools will be evaluating bid responses, getting board approval, and signing contracts. The application window will take place from January to March 2015.
To make sure you do not miss any of the opportunities, Sheps is planning “Comstor Annual Step-by-Step E-rate Tutorial and Training,” which is scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, December 16.
Join the webinar and learn::
- How to look up E-rate discount levels
- How to download state reports on who has filed to date
- How to print out individual funding requests
- How to look up who has had funding approved
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the E-rate Modernization Order or how Comstor can help you prepare solutions for school districts in your area, post in our comment section.