How do you know if a government program is truly helpful? The application process gives you an ulcer. Case in point, the Federal Communication Commission’s E-Rate program, which has helped many schools and libraries offset most of their technology costs. The challenge lies in navigating the program’s draconian application process. But it’s well worth the effort.
What Is E-Rate?
In 1996, the FCC deemed telecommunications, IT, and the internet as essential services for schools and libraries. Hence, E-Rate was born.
It was intended to keep up with changing technology by funding connectivity and digital learning, with a vision of empowering underserved communities. New technology can improve learning, especially for the most disadvantaged children. However, the cost can force schools to make difficult choices between investing in technology and investing in other things that will improve learning, such as professional staff development, smaller classes, better curriculum, etc. E-Rate enables schools to do both.
Eligible schools and libraries can get a 20% – 90% discount on vital technology. The amount of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch sets the percentage.
How E-Rate Works
Technology is expensive, and most public schools are underfunded. E-Rate enables K-12 schools to offset the costs of network upgrades and related technology and service purchases.
E-Rate offers two categories of service. One provides services to schools and libraries, and the other includes internet access within them. The program includes:
Managed internal broadband services
- Antennas, connectors, and related components used for internal broadband connections
- Firewall services and firewall components separate from basic firewall protection provided as a standard component of a vendor’s internet access service
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)/Battery Backup
- Access points used in a local area network (LAN) or wireless local area network (WLAN) environment (such as wireless access points)
- Wireless controller systems
- Software supporting the components on this list used to distribute high-speed broadband throughout school buildings and libraries
Essentially, E-Rate was created for non-profit K-12 public schools and libraries, which can apply individually or as part of a consortium. Private and religious K-12 schools are also eligible as long as they are nonprofit and do not have an endowment larger than $50 million.
The discounts are typically based on the percentage of students in a school district eligible for no-cost or reduced-price lunches as part of the National School Lunch Program. It was designed to expand connectivity everywhere, so rural school districts receive a higher discount based on lunch program participation.
The E-Rate application process is tedious and complex and can be overwhelming to district personnel who are not working with it daily. Plus, it takes a lot of time. Be that as it may, E-Rate can make all the difference in the world for schools. It’s a multistep process that requires being good at organizing materials and meeting strict filing deadlines.
Here are the steps you take in the E-Rate application process:
- Open a competitive bid process.
- File Form 470 to start the competitive bid process.
- Honor the 28-day waiting period.
- Submit signed contracts and Form 471.
- Be responsive during the application review.
- Receive the funding decision.
- Invoice USAC.
The E-Rate program Form 471 application window for funding year 2021 (2021-22 school year) opened on Friday, January 15 and will close on Thursday, March 25, at 10:59 p.m. CDT. The last possible date to file form 470 and still have the required 28-day waiting period is February 25.
Getting through all of the steps isn’t easy, but don’t worry.
Networking Technologies Can Provide Guidance on E-Rate
We’ve been providing school districts with best-in-class IT solutions for over twenty years. Naturally, we get a lot of questions about the E-Rate application process. Networking Technologies can aid you with guidance, including helping you with the 471 paperwork (471 only, not 470). Our vetted partners have E-Rate programs, and we bring their expertise to you as well.
In light of massive funding schools will see as a result of COVID-19 through recent legislation, now is the time to figure out how to allocate funds. Everything starts with a chat. Give us a call. We’re eager to hear about your school district.