E-Rate Update: The Latest on the Universal Service Fund
Fletcher, Geoff, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
In an article in the November 1997 issue of T.H.E. Journal (see "The E-Rate Doesn't Have To Be a Win/Lose Situation," p. 70) we discussed some potential barriers to successful implementation of the E-rate and possible solutions to those barriers. The key to the issues -- quite obvious, really -- is comprehensive planning and budgeting to ensure that the acquisition of content, hardware, professional development, and maintenance and support accompany the rush to connect to the Internet.
As the FCC has evolved the process for implementing the E-rate, there have been a number of additional issues that have come up that educators and the library community should be aware of. Some of the original decisions are being revisited and issues that no one anticipated or could have imagined have surfaced. Implementing a $2.25 billion a year fund is an enormous task. The FCC and the governing bodies it has created should feel comfortable invoking the "I reserve the right to be smarter today than I was yesterday" rule in order to get the process right. It is no secret that there are any number of entities which do not necessarily want the E-rate to succeed. (In fact, several key members of Congress have expressed strong disapproval of the way the FCC is going about implementing the E-rate.) This evolutionary process of implementation is critical to ensuring success for the E-rate and its resultant positive impact on schools and libraries.
The following are changes or new issues that have developed since we published "What You Need to Know: New Discounts Cut the Toll for Driving the Information Superhighway" (T.H.E. Journal, 9-97, p.p.52).
There are 4 corporations overseeing various aspects of the E-rate. The National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA - www.neca.org) oversees the entire process. This association was appointed, by the FCC as the temporary administrator of the support mechanisms which will fund the universal service programs.
The commission also ordered NECA to incorporate an independent, non-profit subsidiary, Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), and two non-profit, unaffiliated corporations, the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC) and the Rural Health Care Corporation (RHC).
USAC administers, temporarily, the universal service support mechanisms for high cost areas and lowincome consumers (the primary target audience for the E-rate), as well as billing, collection and disbursement functions for schools, libraries and rural health care providers. In short, USAC is the primary contact point for the telecommunications companies as they put money into the fund and as they and other service providers get money from the fund. USAC has a 17-member board drawn from the telecommunications industry and the schools, libraries and rural health care arenas.
USAC Board Members:
Frank Gumper, Bell Atlantic
Kevin Hess, TDS TELECOM
Edwin H. Eichler, Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies
Donald Lynch, MCI Telecommunications Corporation
James Jackson, General Communication, Inc.
Tom Wheeler, Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association
Heather Burnett Gold, Association for Local Telecommunications Services, Inc.
Lisa Rosenblum, Cablevision Systems Corporation
David Abramson, 3Com Corporation
Anne L. Bryant, National School Boards Association
Dr. Henry Marockie, Council of Chief State School Officers
Brian Talbott, American Association of Educational Service Agencies
Kathleen G. Ouye, San Mateo Public Library
Dr. Jay Sanders, American Telemedicine Association
John Anthony Butler, National Urban League
Martha Hogerty, Office of the Missouri Public Counsel
Allan Thoms, Iowa Utilities Board
The Schools and Libraries Corporation is charged with administering all other functions related to the Universal Service Fund for schools and libraries, This includes administering the application process, creating and maintaining a Web site to post service applications, and performing outreach and education functions needed to administer the program. …