Magazine article Technology & Learning

E-Rate Update

Magazine article Technology & Learning

E-Rate Update

Article excerpt

We had a conversation with Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) vice president Mickey Revenaugh to learn the latest on the much buffeted-about E-rate telecommunications discount program. Here is what she told us.

Mickey, can you provide us with an update of where the SLD is at this point in the process of Year 2 E-rate operations?

We are processing all Year 2 applications right now, and are happy to report that things are going much more smoothly than last year--both applicants and SLD having learned a lot from Year 1. At this point we are waiting for the FCC to set the funding level for the year so that we can begin issuing commitments. There's Congressional momentum building for a $2.25 billion funding cap, which means not everyone will get everything they ask for, but it's a move in the right direction. If the FCC acts in a timely fashion, we hope to begin making funding commitments in early June and have all of them out by the end of July.

Last year many districts had to be reimbursed for telecommunications costs incurred before their E-rate discounts had been awarded. Do you anticipate a similar situation this year?

Service providers, especially the big phone companies, are all deeply committed to providing discounted bills for Year 2. Everyone wants to avoid a separate reimbursement process, because we want the E-rate to be delivered to schools and libraries in the form of discounts, as originally intended. Now, even if we got all funding commitments out by June 30, the normal billing cycle for things like phone service would mean that some folks would not get discounted bills until July or August, but the major telecom service providers have assured us that that first month or two will simply be credited on the applicants' bills, without any additional paperwork. That should make life a lot easier for everyone in Year 2.

How will Year 3 operations in general compare to Year 2? Do you feel the political wrangling surrounding E-rate funding or last year's delays will discourage applicants in Year 3?

Despite the enormous challenges we faced in Year 1, which some feared would discourage applicants, the number and dollar amounts of Year 2 applications (32,000 entries, requesting an estimated $2.4 billion) significantly exceeded Year 1. Schools showed an awesome perseverance and faith in completing their applications for the second year while they were still waiting for funding from the first--it just demonstrates how deep the need is out there. And now that truly substantial dollars are flowing into virtually every community across the country, soon to be followed by Year 2 dollars, I see no reason at all to anticipate a dip in applications for Year 3.

To help us improve the program and make it easier and more efficient, we've convened a Year 3 Task Force that has already made 10 recommendations--from a simplified application form to a more flexible timeline--that should substantially improve the program.

Could you give us an anticipated E-rate timeline for this year?

As I mentioned earlier, Year 2 letters will be going out in June and July. One of the Task Force recommendations is to allow folks to complete the first step of the application process, Form 470, anytime during the year, so we may begin accepting Form 470 in very early fall--although that's not a final decision yet. We expect the Year 3 application window for step two, Form 471, to open in late fall and remain open for about 90 days--again, this is all pretty tentative at this point. One thing we've heard loud and clear is that we need to close the window in time to make funding commitments by mid-May at the latest, so that's what we're hoping to do. …

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