The E-rate program has played, and continues to play, a
major role in the development and support of telecommunications, Internet
access, and other technology services for the K-12 educational community. As
many technology directors and business managers know, E-rate is a valuable —
and, in many cases, mission critical — source of technology funding.
However, there is a dark side to E-rate. As the program has matured, it has
become increasingly complex. It is now disturbingly easy to run afoul of rules
and procedures, to lose a year of funding, or in some cases to be asked to
return funds disbursed in earlier years. Since E-rate funds are needed, not
only for new projects, but for the support of ongoing programs, the importance
of proper E-rate planning and execution cannot be overstated.
This article will focus on the key aspects of successfully applying for and
receiving E-rate discounts for schools and libraries. While the article will
touch on several new aspects of the program that will be important in the next
application cycle, details of these changes will be discussed more fully in a
Here are ten rules for E-rate success:
Rule 1: E-rate is not, and cannot be treated as, a “file it and forget
it” program. It is a full year job.
For most school administrators, E-rate is not a full time job, but it is most
certainly a full year job. In the course of any year, E-rate coordinators are
typically dealing with three different funding years, each with critical
deadlines. There are reimbursements to be claimed from the previous year’s
funding; there are review and filing requirements for the current year; and
there are new applications to be filed for the next year. While there is a peak
of activity in January, just prior to the filing of the next year’s
applications, there is something to do all the rest of the year – even during
the summer vacation period.
We see too many applicants go to a lot of trouble to
file for and obtain E-rate commitments only to lose the actual discounts
because they forget the equally critical follow up steps to make sure discounts
are actually received. Attention must be paid to E-rate year round.
Rule 2: Keep up-to date. E-rate rules continue to change and must be
A corollary to Rule 1 is that changes to the E-rate program, which occur
frequently throughout the year, must be tracked continuously. This is a
particularly important year to follow because there have been three new FCC
Orders released in the past 12 months, and a brand new set of forms and
instructions are expected to be released shortly.
Most changes are posted as they arise on the Schools and Libraries Division’s
(“SLD”) Website (www.sl.universalservice.org) as Important Notices and
Headlines, but others may be reflected only in new language in site’s Reference
Area. Applicants, who have not made Internet access and e-mail a part of their
working life, will find it very difficult to keep up. Here are three
suggestions for keeping current:
Visit the SLD’s Web site at least once weekly.
If available, subscribe to your state’s E-rate e-mail listserv. E-Rate Central
maintains a free weekly E-rate newsletter for applicants in states that don’t
have their own listserv (sign up for the
Again, if available, attend the E-rate training sessions held in many states
each fall in preparation for the next application cycle.