After the FCC Victory: How to Get Telecom Discounts

Article excerpt

On May 7 the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to give libraries and schools up to $2.25 billion annually in discounts on telecommunications services (AL, June/July, p. 12). The discounts should be available beginning January 1, 1998. However, while work is moving forward in Washington to finalize the application forms and process, state public utility regulators must still take action in order for federal universal service discounts to be available to libraries and schools in your state.

Below is a brief analysis of the FCC's rule on telecommunications discounts for schools and libraries. This analysis is tentative, pending additional information from the FCC. The full text of the FCC ruling is available at http://www.fcc.gov/ccb/universal_service/fcc97157/.

When do the discounts start? January 1, 1998. However, a state must adopt discounts on intrastate services that are at least equal to the federal discounts in order for schools and libraries in that state to receive discounts based on the federal universal service fund.

What institutions are eligible? Generally, public libraries, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and consortia consisting of these eligible institutions.

Specifically, eligible libraries must: 1) meet the definition of libraries in the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA); 2) operate as a nonprofit organization; and 3) have a budget that is "separate from any institution of learning," such as a school, college, or university.

Eligible schools must be elementary or secondary schools as defined by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (school libraries in eligible schools are funded as part of the school). Eligible schools must also have endowments of less than $50 million.

Consortia made up of eligible libraries, schools, and rural health care providers (which are also eligible for universal service discounts). Discounts may only be allocated to consortia members that are eligible for discounts - libraries, schools, and rural health care providers. LSTA's definition of a library consortium was accepted, with the exception of consortia that are an "international cooperative association of library entities," which the FCC excluded from eligibility for discounts.

How do we apply for the discounts? As of late June, application forms and procedures are being developed and are not yet available. Applications will be submitted to the interim universal service fund administrator, the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), which will process them on a first-come, first-served basis.

How will the discounts work? Service providers will bill eligible institutions for the discounted amount and receive reimbursement from the universal service fund administrator.

What services are eligible for discount? Any commercially available telecommunications service is eligible for discount, as well as Internet access and internal connections. …