Schools and Libraries: Prepare for 2019 E-rate Funding Changes
For 20 years, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) has offered discounts of up to 90 percent on telecom services for eligible schools and libraries.
However, USAC has shifted its E-rate funds to internet connectivity and, starting with the 2019 school year, voice service discounts will end. While it may seem daunting, there are measures you can take to help you prepare for this monumental funding shift.
When it comes to telecom, half of the battle is knowing what you’re paying for. Invoices don’t always help because the billing information can be unclear. Taking inventory empowers you to shift or drop services you aren’t using (e.g., voicemail on an elevator phone).
Knowing your inventory can also strengthen your negotiation position when you are seeking carrier discounts and revising contracts. You’ll also be able to more accurately budget for what you’ll be spending and anticipate what services will lose the discounted rate in 2019.
Make sure eligible data services are discounted
While voice services are losing their mark down, E-rate savings are still available for eligible data services. The USAC website lists the discounts, filing deadlines and forms. Compare the list with your inventory to ensure that all of your eligible data services are receiving E-rate funding.
There are other paths to voice-related savings. For example, educational facilities and nonprofits often qualify for wireless service plan discounts. Even landline services may be eligible for promotional discounts that are not widely publicized, depending on the type and quantity of services you have.
Review your account for qualifying exemptions
“Taxes, Surcharges, and Fees” often pops up on a telecom bill. Which ones you are exempt from? The rules vary by state, and each county, locality, and carrier uses its own process to apply the exemptions.
Whenever you make account changes, or if it has been a while since the account has been updated, the taxes may creep back onto your bill. Sometimes even the carriers aren’t aware when an exemption should apply. A thorough telecom review can uncover billing errors, so be sure to review your accounts periodically.
Examine your overall technology platform
Major providers, including AT&T, have already outlined a plan to eliminate support for some landline services that run on older telecom infrastructure. If this technology gets phased out, you will need a plan to keep your buildings connected and absorb rising maintenance costs.
You might also see the E-rate changes as an opportunity to reexamine your structure and determine if it makes sense to modernize your telecom technology. Updating to VoIP or SIP trunks may end up costing less. However, follow due diligence to ensure you end up with the right services and that your infrastructure can support upgraded technology.
Talk to your E-rate consultant
If you utilize an E-rate consultant to help prepare the forms for funding, use that resource as much as possible during this process. Consultants have to keep track of your accounts, your services, and the contract terms. That should give you a very good head start on taking inventory.
Some consultants may not have an obligation to share this information with you, while others may build it into their scope of work. Refer back to your agreement and confer with them to see if they can help fill in the missing pieces.
Consider a telecom review
Staying on top of telecom expenses often requires an in-depth look at every line on the invoice and several calls to the carrier to ensure you are being billed correctly. In light of the upcoming E-rate changes, this time investment could help you offset the funding loss.
How we can help
CLA’s telecom advisory services team can work with you to assess your telecom expenses to determine if you are being charged accurately by your providers for the services you need. We can help you make informed decisions about your telecom services, and mitigate the risks of overpayment.