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E-Rate Offers Significant Telecom Discounts for Schools and Libraries
The Schools and Libraries Program, commonly referred to as E-Rate, offers sizeable discounts on telecommunications, internet access, and related services. E-Rate is administered by the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) with oversight from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Although the program was authorized as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, many schools and libraries still aren’t aware they can take advantage of it.
Eligible participants include public and most nonprofit K – 12 schools, as well as all public and many private libraries. One requirement is that all program participants must carry out a competitive bidding process to select the most cost-effective companies to provide the goods and services requested.
Discounts within the E-Rate program can range from 20 to 90 percent, depending on the level of poverty as measured by the percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program or an equivalent measure and the location of the school or library. The program is capped at $2.25 billion per program year, indexed to inflation.
The typical services eligible for E-Rate funding today include:
- Telecommunications such as local and long distance services, 800 services, and cellular service
- Basic conduit internet access, including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other data services
- Internet connections including network equipment and wiring needed to bring information directly to classrooms and library programs
- Basic maintenance of internal connections
The program does not cover desktop computers, learning software, or training for teachers or library staff.
Recent steps taken by the FCC to modernize the program have put a much greater emphasis (from a funding perspective) on Wi-Fi networks while deemphasizing traditional phone service.
The application process for Schools and Libraries Program discounts is intricate and time-consuming. A critical step involves filing an FCC Form 471 to provide USAC with information about the requested services and eligible discounts. USAC will review the request, may ask for additional information, and will then issue a funding decision. If funded, a school or library can either receive discounted bills from its current service provider or pay for the services in full and request reimbursements.
How we can help
CLA can help you determine if you meet the requirements for the E-Rate program and estimate the potential discounts. We can also assist with the complicated application process. In addition, our team provides clients with complimentary assessments of telecom services by reviewing invoices for potential billing errors, evaluating utilization, and devising strategies for better optimization.