- Developing a detailed plan during the E-rate application process can help schools and districts make the most of funds from the FCC-administered program, according to EdTech: Focus on K-12.
- To reap the full benefits, schools can file Form 470 as early as possible, plan for the infrastructure they'll need over the next two to three years, avoid several common mistakes in the bidding process, and craft a detailed strategic plan that notes each deadline.
- Among the common mistakes to avoid, EdTech reports, are not waiting 28 days before selecting or signing a provider/vendor contract, not evaluating bids with price as the primary factor, accepting gifts of value from service providers or vendors, and choosing providers or vendors without properly conducting a competitive review process.
It's still not too late to begin planning for 2018 E-rate funding if you didn't already start a few months ago. The window for filing closes around the end of February, giving school and district IT leaders who've procrastinated thus far enough time to get their applications together, lest they should have to file a Form 471 and endure a more stressful bidding process.
The program has proven increasingly helpful in recent years, especially for rural and urban schools with limited resources, as classrooms have gone digital. With many assessments and classroom resources now requiring the use of devices like laptops or tablets, having up-to-date infrastructure capable of delivering high-speed broadband access is a must. Funds for Learning's 2016 E-Rate Trends Report shows the number of high-speed internet requests doubled year-over-year, with most applicants expecting their bandwidth needs to grow and many skewing more rural than urban at 54% and 46%, respectively.
The complexity of the process has been a source of concern for Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has expressed interest in simplifying the program — though there are no expected changes on the horizon — as well as giving greater focus to the needs of schools in rural areas where reliable broadband access is much harder to come by. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, has also advocated for the funding's use to be expanded to closing the "homework gap," which places students who lack reliable broadband access at home at a disadvantage compared to more affluent peers when it comes to completing homework assignments that require Internet access.