California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 37, No. 5
August-September, 1997

E-Rate: A Primer on Universal Service Ruling

Funding: FCC program provides significant discounts for instructional-related services.

Greg Lindner, Yolo County Superintendent of Schools

On May 7, 1997, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its long-awaited ruling on Universal Service. This program will provide schools and libraries with significant discounts on basic telephone service, advanced telecommunication services, Internet services, and internal connections necessary to enable students and library users to access the information superhighway.

The discounts range from 20% to 90% based on the eligibility for free and reduced price school lunch and the cost of telecommunications in the school or library's service area. Discounts will become available on January 1, 1998. Detailed information on this topic can be found under the E-Rate link on our home page at http://www.yolo.k12.ca.us.

The most important thing at this time is to understand that the E-Rate covers discounts on all commercially available telecommunication services, Internet access, and internal connections. This program provides schools and libraries with the maximum flexibility to purchase the package of services they believe will meet their communications needs most effectively.

To clarify, this covers the telephone lines, the routers, the hubs, the Internet network server, the network cards (NIC) and the inside wiring to connect schools and classrooms to the Internet. Typically these costs can quickly add up to $10,000 or more. If your school or District or Consortium were to receive a 60% discount, the costs would only be $4000; a savings of $6000.

This fund is available to schools on a nationwide, first come, first served basis. We must be ready to move when the applications become available. In order to be prepared, your school or District should do the following;

Discounts from the funds will not be available until January 1, 1998. However, schools should be able to start applying in July or August. If you are currently considering purchases as described in this memo, you may wish to reconsider in light of the discounts.

Discounts will be based on the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and applied according to the following table:

How Disadvantaged? Est. % of US Schools in Category Discount Level (%) Urban Discount Level (%) Rural
< 1 3 20 25
1-19 31 40 50
20-34 19 50 60
35-49 15 60 70
50-74 16 80 80
75-100 16 90 90

Application forms are being developed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in consultation with the Department of Education. Requests for discount commitments will be accepted as soon as the schools and libraries and health care Websites are open and the applications are available. The FCC will determine the date when applications will be accepted. The Websites will be opened and applications will be accepted shortly after the FCC finalizes the application form process and the FCC has stated they will issue a Public Notice to alert all parties when the application process is ready to begin.

The E-Rate is found in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which is over 900 pages long. The section dealing with Education is 96 pages. One of the services that CEDPA provides is to analyze and clarify information such as this so that you do not need to become an expert.

CEDPA will disseminate additional information as it becomes available. Until then please stay tuned to the Yolo County Superintent of Schools E-Rate Central website at http://www.yolo.k12.ca.us/erate.htm for the latest information.

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