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E-rate

The Schools and Libraries Program, also known as E-rate, is a Universal Service Fund program designed to help public schools and libraries gain access to affordable telecommunication services and high-speed Internet access. Public school districts and libraries may apply annually for eligible services, which they can procure through service providers at a discounted rate. The services fall into two groups: Category One and Category Two. Category One services are defined by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) as “services that provide the basic conduit access to the Internet.” Category Two services are those “needed to enable high-speed broadband connectivity and broadband internal connections components.” See the USAC website for additional information.

Since E-rate's establishment two decades ago, school technology needs have evolved greatly while the program itself remained unchanged until 2014. In a series of change orders, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overhauled E-rate. Of the multiple changes, perhaps the most significant was prioritization of support for fiber connectivity to all schools. Now is the time for school districts to take advantage of the changes and consider upgrading to long-term network solutions to meet future connectivity goals.

At a high level: the new 2016 school year E-rate rules have "equalized" the treatment of lit, leased dark, and self-provisioned fiber options. Equal amounts of funding are available for each of these options, provided applicants can show that they are the best option for their specific situation.

Defining special construction

Leveling the playing field for lit and leased dark fiber

Expanded opportunities for self-provisioned fiber

Amortizing the non-discounted portion of special construction costs

Determining if a connection is category 1 or category 2

Beginning in Funding Year 2017‐2018, the logic for determining whether a connection between buildings is Category 1 or Category 2 has changed (see the 2017 Eligible Services List). Public rights of way and co-located schools no longer impact whether a connection is considered Category 1 or Category 2. The defining factor is whether the connection is between different entities, regardless of their physical location.

Category Scenarios Explanation
Category 1
  • A high school, middle school, and elementary school are all located on the same piece of property.
  • A high school and elementary school share the same building.
The connections are between different schools with their own entity numbers.
Category 2
  • A high school has multiple buildings on the same piece of property.
  • A single school campus is intersected by a public right of way and has instructional buildings on either side.
The connections are between different buildings belonging to the same school with a single entity number.
Depends
  • A single school with a single entity number has multiple campuses located miles apart.
Connections that distribute broadband to buildings of a single school located on multiple campuses miles apart may be eligible for Category One support. It is best to contact USAC for guidance on your particular situation.