Connecting with Funding

What’s happening and what’s ahead for 2017 E-rate.

GUEST COLUMN | by Cathy Cruzan

credit-funds-for-learningE-rate has come a long way, and in the past four years funding has been restored for school and library connections. This year marks my 20th filing window, and 2016 reminded me again how important it is for schools and libraries to receive E-rate funds.

This year brought the latest funding window close in E-rate’s history. For the first time, the E-rate application was entirely online and a new discount request form had been rolled out. Applicants were told to allow extra time for themselves as they needed to become familiar with the new system. This was easier said then done, and ultimately, the window closing was pushed back. At the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) training in Los Angeles, USCA was candid about the challenges many encountered this year in the new E-rate Productivity Center (EPC). Of course, in any new system, challenges arise and we have to work through them.

There has been a lot of change, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s a worthy cause, and we all have a role in helping the E-rate process move along.

Also noteworthy, USAC issued its fastest funding decision, coming only 21 days after the close of the filing window for schools. This wave represented more than 2,000 applications for requests that consisted of internet, data, and voice services. The total funding amount was $17.7 million and was surprisingly the lowest amount committed in a first funding wave. At the same time, it was also a positive indication that funds would begin flowing, and USAC would release applications as soon as they are processed.

The data behind each funding request has also been interesting. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • In the Category One funding requests, lit fiber exceeded $1.2 billion, nearly five times the requested amount of the next highest service (telephone), and included 4,402 requests for voice/internet services.
  • In Category Two, more than 65 percent of dollars requested by school and district applicants was for switching and Wi-Fi infrastructure. Throughout E-rate’s history, 2015 and 2016 have seen the highest participation in this category – reiterating the need for connectivity.

So what’s next for the 2017 E-rate year?

As we quickly move into this next year, there are significant political and financial scenarios to consider: we’ll have a new president wanting to make his/her mark on the FCC, and USAC has appointed a new vice president, Craig Davis, after his long-time predecessor retired. In both occurrences, we need to be mindful of changes they may have to make as the political climate shifts.

Until that time comes, our thinking should be on how to enhance the E-rate program’s support of schools and libraries nationwide. We’ve seen strong indicators already on the success of the E-rate program as $214.2 million has been disbursed for the 2016 year – an encouraging sign as to what is to come in this next year.

There has been a lot of change, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s a worthy cause, and we all have a role in helping the E-rate process move along. In the coming weeks, look for influential survey data from Funds For Learning team discussing applicants’ reactions to the 2016-funding window. These numbers will shed some light on what this next funding year will bring.

As always we’ll keep our eye on what’s happening on the E-rate front.

Until then…

Cathy Cruzan is president of Funds For Learning, a leading E-rate funding compliance services firm with a mission to provide high quality solutions for the needs of E-rate stakeholders.

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