Officials Say E-Rate Commitments Are On the Way
Hurry up and wait--and wait--has been the experience, so far, for the schools and libraries that applied last winter for federal discounts on telecommunications.
But the wait is almost over, said Kate L. Moore, who in August replaced Ira A. Fishman as the acting CEO of the Schools and Libraries Corp., which administers the "E-rate" discount program.
Ms. Moore told schools and libraries in a Sept. 23 letter that they would get commitment letters with the exact amounts of their discounts in "early fall," after the SLC made final a system for handling thousands of invoices worth $1.9 billion through June 1998 and received a green light from an outside auditor.
Last week, regulators set a Dec. 1 start date for accepting applications for the E-rate's second year--July 1999 through June 2000. In an initial 80-day filing window, all applications will get equal priority.
The original estimate was that discount commitments for the first year of the program would be announced this past summer. Many schools and libraries have paid for their eligible projects and services, anticipating discounts, but need reimbursements to pay for training teachers and buying equipment to use the telecommunications capacity effectively.
Mickey Revenaugh, the SLC's director of outreach, was more precisely imprecise than Ms. Moore, announcing at a teleconference last week that the first commitment letters would go out "before the end of the first third of fall."
The SLC has decided to issue funding decisions in three waves. The first wave of letters will cover applications that are purely for telecommunications services and Internet access. The second wave will pay for internal connections. The third wave will be for projects that combine services and wiring or that have blended discount levels for multiple sites.
The SLC will notify service providers of their customers' discounts, Ms. Revenaugh said. Accompanying the letter will be Form 486, which applicants must return to the SLC before invoices from vendors are paid. Schools must certify on the form that they have a technology plan that has been approved by their state education department.
Vol. 18, Issue 6, Page 26