A Simple Guide to E-rate Funding – How to Apply and What it Can Be Used For

In the early 2000s, just over half of all American adults used the Internet. Today, over 95% use it and nearly all have a mobile…

In the early 2000s, just over half of all American adults used the Internet. Today, over 95% use it and nearly all have a mobile device. Being connected is crucial in today’s digital world, especially in education. Schools need appropriate digital tools and resources to stay current and safe. Fortunately, the FCC recognized this need in 1996 and introduced the E-rate program, which is funded by fees charged to telecom companies. Here, we outline what you need to know to apply and key dates for 2024.  

The deadline to apply for E-rate funding in 2024 has been extended to March 27th, 2024 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.  

E-rate offers 20-90% discounts on services and supplies based on qualifying factors. However, navigating the system and meeting criteria and deadlines can be challenging. This guide will help you understand what’s expected to make the experience easier. 

Who is Eligible for E-rate? 

To be eligible for the E-rate, you must meet the definition of a school or library outlined by the E-rate. Sometimes, even facilities that don’t fit the traditional definition can qualify. This includes school residential facilities, administrative buildings, or non-traditional educational facilities like juvenile justice or adult education, among others. 

Eligible schools can expect discounts ranging from 20 to 90 percent on eligible services. The percentage depends on two main factors: location (rural or urban) and the poverty level (based on the number of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, or NSLP). 

All schools applying for E-rate funding must certify that they are compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). To comply with CIPA requirements you must meet the following criteria:  

  1. Have an internet safety policy that outlines appropriate internet usage for minors.  
  2. Install a web filter, like ContentKeeper, to block or filter certain harmful content online. 
  3. Have one public meeting for students and parents (for schools) or for library patrons (for libraries) where you discuss your Internet Safety Policy.  
  4. (For Schools Only) Educate your students on appropriate internet usage, including information on cyberbullying, chat rooms and more.  

Applying for E-rate 

The application process for E-rate funding can be incredibly frustrating and requires extensive planning. If you’ve experienced a funding round before, you know it involves many reports and future planning. The USAC have created a simple flowchart to help you make sense of the process and what’s expected.  

The E-rate process involves identifying your connectivity needs, finding a service provider, applying for a discount, receiving the service, and invoicing USAC. When reviewing bids, choose the most cost-effective option. A more expensive bid may be acceptable if it offers what you need. After selecting the provider and submitting Form 471, your application will be reviewed. USAC may have questions to which you’ll have 15 days to respond. 

You must first submit for 470 to start the bidding, then in this order: 

  1. Wait 28 days for all bids to come in 
  2. Evaluate bids 
  3. Select the winning provider bid 
  4. Submit Form 471, which is due between January 15 to March 25   

What is eligible? 

The USAC releases a list of eligible E-rate services for the upcoming year before the Form 471 application window. For example, this year, the funding focuses on WIFI for buses and more, but it’s best to check the list before filing Form 470 to make sure the services you’re bidding on are eligible.  

There are two main categories for eligible services:  

  1. Category One-Data Transmission: services and internet access. 
  2. Category Two-Internal connections: managed internal broadband services and essential maintenance of internal connections. 

According to the FCC, federal funds are meant to help schools get affordable broadband. Most districts already have broadband, especially after the pandemic changes. Now, there’s a push to expand E-rate to cover more cybersecurity solutions. Currently, schools can’t use E-rate funding just for EdTech, but advocates like CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) have been lobbying to change that. Make sure to visit us at CoSN 2024 to learn more.  

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