The federal program commonly known as E-Rate is the nation's most significant education technology program. Over the last 17 years, the program has allocated over $30 billion dollars to cash-strapped schools and libraries in the form of discounts for telecommunication services, internet access, network equipment, and related software and services.
In 2014, the FCC changed the focus of the program, shifting away from support for telecom services and toward high-speed broadband in the classroom. These changes, known as E-Rate 2.0, represent the first major change in focus since the program's inception.
Due to take effect in July 2015, the new model for the program has three main initiatives. They are:
- Ensuring access to affordable high-speed broadband for as many classrooms as possible.
- Improving the cost-effectiveness of E-Rate spending.
- Streamlining administration and the application process to better meet the needs of the recipients and the cost objectives of the program itself.
The major changes occurring with E-Rate 2.0 are:
- Support for non-broadband and services like e-mail, paging, and web hosting will be eliminated.
- A 20 percent reduction in funding will go into effect for voice services, including telephone landlines, cellular services, and VoIP each year until these services are completely phased out.
- Schools eligible for discounts will now have to have a minimum pre-discount budget of $9200 for E-Rate covered areas.
- The highest discount level will now be 85 percent, down from the earlier 90 percent discount level allowed.
- New invoicing procedures will streamline reimbursements, which should allow schools to purchase any additional products needed in an expedient manner.
There can be no doubt that E-Rate 2.0 will impact the purchasing decisions of schools and libraries across the nation.
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