Why is an article on the E-rate in the space normally reserved for Trends? Our original topic for this month's Trends was on the impact of telecommunications deregulation on Internet access for schools and libraries. However, since deregulation has been pretty much stalled in the courts, and the Universal Service Fund (USF) is the most pressing issue relating to the Internet in education, we felt an update on the USF would be more beneficial than an article on why telecommunications deregulation is taking so long.
-- The Editors
On January 30, 1998, at 5:00 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, the long awaited opening of the Schools and Libraries Corporation Web site (www.slcfund.org) occurred. This opening officially kicks off the application process for obtaining discounts through the E-rate as passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. This date is critical for three reasons:
1) Schools and libraries may actually begin the application process. In mid-December, the Schools and Libraries Corporation mailed the application forms and instructions to all schools and libraries in the country. In addition, they are available on the SLC Web site. The application process begins with schools and libraries submitting Form 470 to the SLC either electronically directly to the Web site, or by mail. This form describes what schools and libraries are requesting in the way of telecommunications services, Internet access and/or internal connections. It also states whether or not a requested service is for an existing contract (see below) or for a new contract. This step kicks off the rest of the application process:
* the SLC posts the Form 470(s) for 28 days
* providers contact schools and libraries for more information and submit bids on the requested services
* schools and libraries negotiate and sign contracts
* schools and libraries submit Form 471, which notifies the SLC of the contracts and the amount of discount requested
* providers begin services
* schools and libraries submit Form 486 to the SLC notifying that services have begun and that they have an APPROVED technology plan
* providers submit a request for payment from the Universal Service Fund
2) It begins the 75-day window. The applications originally were to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. For the first year of the E-rate only, the SLC has established a 75 day window during which all applications received during this time will be treated as if they arrived at exactly the same time. (See the January article "E-rate Update: The Latest on the Universal Service Fund.") In order for applications to be considered within the window, both Form 470 and 471 must be received by the SLC by April 15 (January 30 plus 75 days). While this seems to be a long period of time, remember that Form 470 must be on the SLC Web site for at least 28 days before you can submit Form 471. In addition, you might want to add a few days for the SLC to post and process the forms and notify you, especially if it is being sent by mail.
3) It defines the last day a contract can be signed and still be considered an existing contract. For purposes of the E-rate, an existing contract does not have to go through the SLC bidding process; .i.e. posting for 28 days on the Web site (see the January article). In the Fourth Order on Reconsideration, the FCC redefined again an existing contract. The new definition is that any contract signed by a school or library before July 10, 1997 is an existing contract for the purposes of the E-rate, and any services provided under that contract are eligible for the USF for the entire length of the contract. Contracts signed between July 10, 1997 and January 30, 1998 are considered existing contracts for 1998 only. For 1999, schools and libraries must submit these services through the SLC process. Remember, however, that this is NOT automatic; schools and libraries must apply every year to take advantage of discounts for these contracts. …