Monthly Archives: July 2013

E-rate Modernization: NPRM Fact Sheet Released

 

On Friday (7/19/2013), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the release of the much-anticipated E-rate Modernization Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that is slated to modernize the E-rate program.  The actual NPRM has not yet been released, but the FCC has released an interim Fact Sheet that outlines the NPRMs key goals and provisions which are outlined below.  We will send additional details regarding the NPRM’s contents when it becomes available, hopefully later this week.  Please keep in mind that the NPRM will provide various reform ideas and ask for public comment — these are not final rules.

After the comment and reply comment periods, the FCC staff will review all suggestions offered, and then ultimately release the new E-rate rules — likely next year.  We are anticipating the new rules taking effect for Funding Year 2015 at the earliest.

The next year will be an exciting period for E-rate’s future and I look forward to working with you to ensure that everyone understands the nuances of the proposed changes and that Kansas’s schools and libraries participate in this rulemaking process.

 

FCC NPRM Fact Sheet is available here:  http://www.fcc.gov/document/fact-sheet-update-e-rate-broadband-schools-and-libraries

  • Increased Broadband Capacity: To ensure schools and libraries have affordable access to 21st century broadband, the notice of proposed rulemaking seeks comment on a range of approaches to focus funds on high-capacity broadband, including:
    • Simplifying rules on fiber deployment to lower barriers to new construction
    • Prioritizing funding for new fiber deployments that will drive higher speeds and long-term efficiency
    • Phasing out support for services like paging and directory assistance
    • Ensuring that schools and libraries can access funding for modern high-speed Wi-Fi networks in classrooms and library buildings
    • Allocating funding on a simplified, per-student basis

 

  • Cost-Effective Purchasing: To maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate purchases, the proposal seeks comment on:
    • Increasing consortium purchasing to drive down prices
    • Creating other bulk buying opportunities and increasing pricing transparency
    • Increasing transparency on how E-rate dollars are spent
    • Improving the competitive bidding process
    • Creating a pilot program to incentivize and test more cost-effective purchasing practices

 

  • Streamlined Program Administration: To streamline the administration of the E-rate program, the proposal seeks comment on:
    • Speeding review of E-rate applications
    • Providing a streamlined electronic filing system and requiring electronic filing of all documents
    • Increasing the transparency of USAC’s processes
    • Simplifying the eligible services list and adopting more efficient ways to disburse E‑rate funds
    • Streamlining the E-rate appeals process

 

  • Outstanding Issues: The proposal also seeks comment on a variety of other issues, including:
    • The applicability of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to devices brought into schools and libraries, and to devices provided by schools and libraries for at-home use
    • Adjusting to changes in the National School Lunch Program that affect E-rate
    • Additional measures for protecting the program from waste, fraud and abuse
    • Wireless community hotspots

Hearings E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing on strengthening E-Rate and expanding access to the latest digital technology and learning tools in our schools and libraries. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. and is titled, “E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology.”

This is a video on this hearing:  http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Hearings&ContentRecord_id=4395bf05-e4b9-4477-93df-e54faf2a81c5&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_id=b06c39af-e033-4cba-9221-de668ca1978a

“Nearly 17 years since we first launched E-Rate, it’s time to strengthen the program,” said Rockefeller. “We’ve got to bring the promise of next-generation broadband connectivity to more schools and libraries and begin to level the playing field for more of our children. I’m eager to hear from our witnesses on how we can work together to give more students a brighter future – one that we definitely know is within reach.”

Please note the hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website. Refresh the Commerce Committee homepage 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to automatically begin streaming the webcast.

Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for webcast hearings, should contact Collenne Wider at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.

Two Important E-Rate Meetings in Washington DC This Week:

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing on strengthening the E-Rate program and expanding access to the latest digital technology and learning tools in schools and libraries. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, July 17th at 2:30 p.m. and is titled, “E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology.” The hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website.

The FCC’s next open Commission meeting will be held on Friday, July 19th at 10:30 a.m. The event may be viewed online at FCC Live Events. The tentative agenda for this meeting includes the following item:

Modernizing the E-Rate Program for Schools and Libraries: The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to modernize the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support mechanism (the E-rate program) to support high-speed broadband for digital learning technologies and ensure all students, teachers, and library patrons have the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century.

FY2013 – July Funding Status

Funding Status

Wave 8 for FY 2013 will be released on Wednesday, July 10, 2013, for $7.4 million.  Funding is currently being provided for Priority 1 services only.  Cumulative funding for FY 2013 will be $198 million, well below last year’s level by now.

Last year, the SLD did not release Wave 1 for FY 2012 until July 10th (due to a delay in FCC approval of PIA procedures), but the first wave was for $646 million — over three times higher than where we are at this point in FY 2013.  The comparison for the number of applications funded by July 10th is 23,800 for FY 2012 versus 14,267 this year.  The slowdown appears to be driven by a reduction in PIA staffing and the continued review of previous years’ applications.

FY 2013 applications which were filed online and on time, but were only certified during the grace period ending May 15th, have now been moved into the “Certified – In Window” status.  Receipt Acknowledgement Letters (“RALs”) for these applications were mailed last week, and funding request data is now available in the SLD’s Data Retrieval Tool (“DRT”) and in E-Rate Central’s Quick Search (see our newsletter of July 1, 2013).  Applications which were not certified, or were not filed with Item 21 attachments, by May 15th will be considered incomplete and will be denied by USAC.  The SLD will be sending Out-of–the-Window letters to late filers within the next two weeks (opening a 60-day window for those wishing to appeal).

Alternative Discount Data History needs to be kept for 5 Years.

Be sure to keep your data that verifies how to established your Matrix discount, especially if you are using an alternative to the NSLP (National School Lunch program).  We call this the Student Survey. 

Last week, the FCC sent subpoenas to certain applicants asking for documents related to income surveys and/or alternative methods used to support their E-rate discount rate.  Requested documents were for the period June 1, 2008 through the present, in line with the FCC’s five-year record retention rules.  Specifically, the subpoenas demanded that the applicants produce the following:

  1. All Documents constituting contracts of employment and/or labor agreements which applied to hiring an E-rate consultant to work on behalf of the School District.
  2. All Documents constituting communication between the School District’s E-rate Consultant and the School District referencing the calculation of E-rate Discount Rates.
  3. All Documents constituting Surveys, Alternative Discount Mechanisms or measures of household income level of students in the School District for the purpose of determining the E-rate Discount Rate.
  4. All Documents containing information on the number of students eligible for NSLP in the School District and any materials used to calculate the number of students in the NSLP.

While it is too early to know where this FCC investigation is going, it is a good time to review the proper use and rationale for income surveys as an alternative mechanism for calculating school discount rates.

For most applicants, NSLP enrollment has been and remains the primary determinant of school discount rates.  But not all schools participate in the NSLP program, so that data is not always available.  Additionally, some schools have found that NSLP data does not accurately reflect the poverty level of all their students, particularly at the upper grade levels.  E-rate rules, therefore, permit applicants to calculate discount rates using several Alternative Discount Mechanisms, including income surveys.

Income surveys require a substantial amount of work but, if properly done, may be the only (or superior) way to accurately estimate the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.  The basic process works as follows:

  1. Surveys must be sent to all the families with students in the schools with instructions to complete and return the survey forms regardless of family income levels.  Generally, an introductory letter is included explaining the importance of the survey in determining the level of aid available to the schools and stressing the confidentiality of the data.
  2. Returned surveys are compiled on a school by school basis to calculate the percentage of reporting students at or below the income level for NSLP eligibility.  Income eligibility levels are set each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) based on family size.
  3. If, for any given school, properly completed surveys are received representing 50% or more of that school’s students, the survey eligibility percentage may be extrapolated to the school as a whole.

Example:  For a school with 100 students, over 50% of the surveys are returned representing 60 students.  Of those 60 students, 42 (or 70%) are eligible.  The school may then report 70% eligibility for its entire student base, i.e., its Block 4 would indicate a total enrollment of 100 with 70 eligible students.

  1. If the survey return rate is less than 50%, the survey results cannot be extrapolated, but eligible students can still be counted in the school’s discount rate calculation and/or used to augment the actual NSLP count.  In the latter case, the school must ensure students are not double counted.
  2. It is critical that survey results be properly documented, and that documentation be maintained for a minimum of five years after the end of the last funding year for which the data was used.  Results of a properly completed survey may be used for two consecutive funding years.

In both theory and practice, the most important aspect of extrapolating the eligibility percentage from the entire student base is that those returned forms can be considered statistically representative of that base.  In particular, applicants using the income survey method are specifically precluded from using the standard NSLP application as a survey form.  If the NSLP form were to be used, goes the reasoning, it would more likely bias the survey results by triggering a higher rate of return from low income families who may be more accustomed to applying for free and reduced-priced meals.  A sample survey form, explaining the purpose of the survey and providing an income reporting page updated using the USDA’s 2013-2014 guidelines, is available in both English and Spanish on E-Rate Central’s website.  We believe that our version is easier to use than the SLD’s sample survey form which (a) requires families to report their actual income levels (rather than simply indicate whether their incomes are above or below the NSLP eligibility level), and (b) must be completed on a school-by-school basis (rather than, for a district, simply indicating which school(s) the families’ children attend). Contact your CTI representative to receive a copy of the Student Survey Form.