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In This Week's Issue
» Funding Status Update
» ConnectED Initiative and E-Rate 2.0
» E-Rate Updates and Reminders
» Schools and Libraries News Brief dated June 7 – Form 486 and Form 479

E-Rate Central News for the Week
June 10, 2013

Introduction

The E-Rate Central News for the Week is prepared by E-Rate Central. E-Rate Central specializes in providing consulting, compliance, and forms processing services to E-rate applicants. To learn more about our services, please contact us by phone (516-801-7804), fax (516-801-7814), or through our Contact Us Web form. Additional E-rate information is located on the E-Rate Central Web site.

Funding Status

Wave 4 for FY 2013 will be released on Tuesday, June 11, 2013, for 18.3 million. Funding is currently being provided for Priority 1 only. Cumulative funding for FY 2013 will be $164 million.

Wave 47 for FY 2012 will be released on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, for $64.0 million. Priority 2 funding is being provided at 90%, and is being denied at 89% and below. Cumulative funding for FY 2012 will be $2.47 billion.

ConnectED Initiative and E-Rate 2.0

In an important speech on education last week, President Obama outlined his new ConnectED initiative which proposes additional funding for E-rate. According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the key objectives of the initiative are as follows:

  • Upgraded Connectivity: The ConnectED initiative will, within five years, connect 99 percent of America's students, through next-generation broadband (at speeds no less than 100Mbps and with a target of 1Gbps) to, and high-speed wireless within, their schools and libraries. The President is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize and leverage the existing E-Rate program, and leverage the expertise of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to deliver this connectivity to states, districts, and schools.
  • Leveling the Playing Field for Rural Students: Rural communities will experience some of the greatest benefits of new education technologies, as ConnectED will help provide new learning opportunities to level the playing field for rural students. The Universal Service Fund has been transformative in the past twenty years providing rural communities with telephone services, and now broadband. The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has helped us connect under-served community anchor institutions. ConnectED builds on those efforts, with greater returns for communities finding it difficult to attract broadband investment.
  • Trained Teachers: The ConnectED initiative invests in improving the skills of teachers, ensuring that every educator in America receives support and training in using education technology tools to improve student learning. Using existing federal funding through Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Department of Education will work with states and school districts to invest in this kind of professional development to help teachers keep pace with changing technology. Additionally, federal funds under Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may be used to train educators to use the educational technology needed to implement new, computer-based assessments of student learning.
  • New Resources for Teachers: ConnectED will lead to new resources for teachers from any school, at any time, to open their classrooms to interactive demonstrations, lessons from world-renowned experts, or the opportunity to build learning communities and to collaborate with other educators across the country or world. New digital education tools that allow for real-time assessments of student learning, provide more immediate feedback to drive professional development, and enable the creation of interactive online lessons can empower teachers to understand each student's strengths and weaknesses and design lessons and activities that better meet their needs. Our teachers are being asked to do more than ever, and they need to be equipped with better tools to help them succeed. With the right investments, technology can play a central role.
  • Educational Devices for Students: Leading companies in technology are capable of producing feature-rich educational devices that are price-competitive with basic textbooks. Districts that choose to purchase devices can come together to purchase them in volume to achieve greater cost savings— but purchasing choices remain in the hands of local educational leaders.
  • Exposing Students to Global Opportunities with New Technology: With access to high-speed broadband and digital technologies, students can have access to more rigorous and engaging classes, new learning resources, rich visualizations of complex concepts, and instruction in any foreign language. Without access to this technology, students would continue to be constrained by the limits of resources at their specific schools – limited by zip code when they could be exposed to global opportunities. With new technology, students also have increased opportunities to work at their own speed and receive additional one-on-one help they need to develop their knowledge and skills.
  • Support for Digital Educational Content: A robust market in educational software can unlock the full educational potential of these investments and create American jobs and export opportunities in a global education marketplace of over $1 trillion. Third-party validators can help schools find educational software (including apps) that provide content aligned with college- and career-ready standards being adopted and implemented by States across America.

From an E-rate perspective, the key element of the ConnectED initiative was the call to the FCC to modernize and leverage the E-rate program — an effort (known informally as "E-Rate 2.0") already under consideration within the Commission. Indeed, Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn was quick to endorse the President's initiative noting:

For America to compete in the 21st century, we need to make sure all of our children and their teachers have access to the best learning technology. Over the last 15 years, the FCC's E-Rate program has successfully helped bring Internet access to our nation's schools and libraries. But basic Internet access is no longer sufficient, and the FCC has been taking a hard look at ways to further modernize the E-Rate program to bring robust broadband to schools and libraries, especially those in low income and rural communities. So I applaud the President for his bold vision. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners and the many stakeholders as we answer the President's call to modernize this vital program.

Two additional points should be noted, namely:

  1. As the President mentioned in his speech, all these initiatives can be implemented without Congressional legislation. Major changes to the E-rate program, however, will require a broad rulemaking process (an "NPRM," i.e., Notice of Public Rulemaking). Such an NPRM is reportedly being drafted by the staff of the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, but will presumably be revised to incorporate the ConnectED proposals. Release of the NPRM may await Senate confirmation of Tom Wheeler as the new Chairman of the FCC. We suspect that the target date for implementation of new E‑Rate 2.0 provisions will be FY 2014.
  2. One intriguing detail mentioned by the President was a proposed increase in E-rate funding, expressed as approximately $5 per year per telephone customer  Since the current E-rate funding level is already insufficient to meet demand, additional funding would be most welcome. It remains to be seen, however, exactly how much extra funding is being proposed, and whether the funding represents a permanent increase or is a temporary increment meant to support the five-year broadband build out goal.

E-Rate Updates and Reminders

FCC Appeal Decisions Watch:

The FCC published one decision last week for Harbor Beach Community SD (DA 13-1247). The decision overturned a USAC FRN denial alleging that a service provider had assisted in the completion of a Form 470. The FCC found no evidence of direct Form 470 assistance, but did note the supplier's indication that it "may have been asked questions [by district employees] regarding internet bandwidth usage, anticipated new internet applications and its effect on current bandwidth provided, or other general internet related questions."  The FCC ruled that such communication concerning existing services and needs "as part of their ongoing business relationship" did not adversely influence the competitive bidding process. This decision reflects a realistic view by the FCC of the needs and realities for communication between applicants and existing suppliers, but it does not suggest carte blanche on conversations which would give the vendors clear competitive advantages.

SLD Fall Applicant Training Schedule:

The SLD has scheduled eight one-day applicant training sessions this fall from late September through early November. As of last Friday, the Washington, DC session was closed, and registrations were being accepted on a waiting list only basis for Houston, Los Angeles, and Newark. Regular registrations are still being accepted for Minneapolis (10/15), St. Louis (10/22), Atlanta (10/24), and Portland (11/7), but less than 120 spaces are available in total.

Reply Comments on the FCC's Bundled Components Proposal:

Reply comments were due last Friday on the FCC's proposal (DA 13-592) to require cost allocation on mobile devices and other bundled components (see our newsletter of April 15, 2013, discussing the basic issue, and our newsletter of May 27, 2013, summarizing the initial comments). Replies were received from:

Schools and Libraries News Brief Dated June 7 – Form 486 and Form 479

The SLD News Brief for June 7, 2013, discusses the requirements for filing Form 486s and, in certain consortium cases, Form 479s.

A Form 486 is required to be filed after an applicant's Form 471 application has been approved and, generally, after services have commenced. Although an application has been approved, USAC will not pay any associated invoice until a Form 486 for the related FRNs has been filed and processed.

One exception to the service start requirement permits an applicant funded in early funding waves to file a Form 486 in May or June, as long as service will start in July, so that service providers can set up discounted billing as soon as possible. To take advantage of this early filing option, use the check box in Item 6a.

The Form 486 is also used to make two key certifications, if required. Specifically:

  1. For all services other than Telecommunications Services, the applicant is CIPA compliant; and
  2. For all Priority 2 services, the applicant has an approved technology plan covering the funding year.

A Form 479 is a special form used only by consortium members receiving Internet and/or Priority 2 services. (It is not required for applicants only receiving Telecommunications Services.)  This form is unusual in that it is the one E-rate form that is not filed with USAC. Instead, it is collected and held on file by the consortium leader to document each member's compliance with the CIPA and technology plan requirements. Effectively, by collecting Form 479s from its members, the consortium leader can then file its consortium Form 486 certifying that all its members are in compliance.

Disclaimer: This newsletter may contain unofficial information on prospective E-rate developments and/or may reflect our own interpretations of E-rate practices and regulations. Such information is provided for planning and guidance purposes only. It is not meant, in any way, to supplant official announcements and instructions provided by either the SLD or the FCC.