E-Rate is the federally-funded program that provides discounts on telephone, telecommunications (data lines), Internet, and internal wiring projects for libraries and schools. E-Rate operates on an annual cycle with applications due in the winter and funding commitments (discounts) being made the following spring through early fall.
Most public libraries in Massachusetts have benefited from E-Rate discounts through one of the eight automated resource sharing networks (e.g., CLAMS, C/W Mars, MVLC) that serve public libraries. Networks average 45-50% offsets for their telecommunications connections, the many data lines that link library buildings and their branches to the network central site. Most networks do not apply for Internet support due to the requirements of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
The E-Rate program is fairly complex, and the information provided on the MBLC Web site is intended only to serve as a starting point. Always, the best and most authoritative web site for information on the E-Rate is the SLD (Schools and Libraries Division) site at http://universalservice.org/sl/.
The state E-Rate coordinator for Massachusetts libraries is:
Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
98 North Washington St., Suite 401
Boston, MA 02114
800-952-7403 (in-state) · 617-725-1860 · 617-725-0140 (fax)
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 provided for discounted rates to schools and libraries for a variety of telecommunications services. The Act directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop rules concerning these discounts. A Federal State Joint Board released its final rulemaking on May 8th, 1997. Since then, a series of decisions have been issued by the FCC — each is called a "Report and Order" — to alter or clarify how the program is run. The history of FCC actions can be found on the FCC web site.
The Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), commonly known as the SLD, administers the E-Rate (Education Rate) program. E-Rate beneficiaries should visit the SLD Web site regularly to see if any changes have affected their funding commitments or the application process.
Libraries are eligible for discounts on four classes of services.
- Telecommunications Service
- Plain old telephone service, or POTS, which includes local and long distance calls charges, cellular phone and PCS charges,
- data circuits, such as: frame relay, MPLS, cable ,DSL, and fiber
- Internet Service
Monthly or annual charges for your Internet connection, from both large and small providers, such as Verizon FIOS or DSL, Comcast, Charter Communications or RCN.
It is very important to carefully distinguish between telecommunications services (the data circuit or transport), and any Internet service that is provided on that circuit.
- Internal Connections
LAN cabling and equipment to support telecommunications connections, such as ethernet hubs, routers, and network file servers. This does NOT include electrical wiring.
- Basic Maintenance
Basic "Break/Fix" maintenance contracts on Internal Connections equipment that you have specifically identified by make, model and physical location, such as routers network servers. No configuration changes, network monitoring, staffing costs would be allowed.
Computers are NOT eligible for discounts (with the possible exception of network file servers). If your library is requesting discounts for internal wiring and relate equipment, be sure to check SLD's list of eligible services and equipment. This list is adjusted every year by the FCC. A searchable eligible products database is also available.
Discounts are not automatic. In order to obtain discounts, libraries or consortia file a series of forms with the Schools and Libraries Division and go through an approval process. Networks and libraries may need to file a technology plan (see Technology Planning) with the Board of Library Commissioners early on in the process. Approval of the plan is required before discounts can begin to flow.
To obtain E-Rate support libraries must go through a series of three steps:
- notification that the library wants a service (Form 470),
- notification that the library has selected and contracted with a bidder (Form 471), and
- notification that service delivery has commenced. (Form 486)
If you are a member of an automated library network, you will need to submit a Form 479 to your network headquarters (not the SLD) in addition to a "Letter of Agency" that authorized the network to purchase services on your behalf. Your network headquarters will coordinate these activities.
It greatly benefits the library to apply online.
Once services start, E-Rate beneficiaries may need the following forms:
- notification that service delivery has commenced or the equipment has been installed (Form 486)
- when a library has chosen to pay the full cost of the service to a vendor, and then requests reimbursement for the discount from the SLD, (Form 472, or the "BEAR" form)
- when a library needs to adjust reduce the amount of a funding commitment or adjust the timeframe for receipt of services (Form 500)
Discounts range from 20% to 90% based on the community's level of financial need (as measured by students' eligibility for the National School Lunch Program in the community) and rurality. We estimate that most libraries receive discounts of 40% to 50% on their services. In general, a public library will have the same discount as its school district. A detailed description of the discounts calculation process is available on the 471 Instructions.
Libraries should always be prepared for an audit from the SLD. During the course of the application and implementation of services, libraries make a variety of certifications. An audit of the library's use of E-Rate funding is always a possibility. Libraries are required to retain their records for 5 years.
Due to the controversial nature of the E-Rate program in congress, and due to some specific administrative requirements placed on the USAC by the Office of Management and Budget, a strict Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) process has been implemented.