Schools and districts have the opportunity to take advantage of increased funding available through E-Rate — a federal program intended to ensure that K–12 schools and libraries, particularly those in low-income or rural areas, have affordable access to telecommunications and Internet services.
Changes to the program in 2014 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) increased funding from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. Schools and districts looking to take advantage of this increase should consider some best practices and tips when applying for E-Rate funding.
Read the two E-Rate Modernization Orders. There is no better way to understand the full scope and reasoning behind the FCC’s changes than to read the Modernization Orders, which are available on the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company, which manages the E-Rate program, says Mel Blackwell, vice president of USAC’s Schools and Libraries Division.
Start early. Do not wait until the last minute. Applicants should start early and ask USAC any questions they have about E-Rate. This will provide ample time to understand the program and to ensure that the application is filled out correctly, which speeds up the funding process, Blackwell says. Filing early also has its perks. Schools and districts that apply first get reviewed first; if their application is filed correctly, they will receive funding in the first wave of approvals.
Plan for several years into the future. FCC no longer requires schools to submit a technology plan to get funded. But it’s still important for schools and districts to look beyond the current E-Rate funding cycle and plan two to three years out so they can prioritize projects and apply for funding accordingly.
Use USAC’s free educational resources. USAC’s website includes a library full of print resources, educational videos and tutorials that walk users through each step of the application process. School and district leaders can also sign up for training events throughout the country, take part in live webinars, or schedule one-on-one meetings that can be held in person, over the phone or through video conferencing, Blackwell says. Applicants with questions can also call USAC’s call center.
Want to learn more? Check out CDW’s white paper, Get Ready for E-Rate 2.0.