What is E-Rate?E-Rate is a federal program from the FCC enabling discounted telecommunications access for qualifying schools and libraries. The program offers discounts up to 90 percent of the standard rate.
To participate in E-Rate, eligible institutions must work with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to procure a competitive bid. Discounts are funded from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund. You can learn more about the USAC program here.
The E-Rate program primarily focuses on broadband internet access and enabling high-speed Wi-Fi access to benefit the local community. The program delivers funds up to predetermined funding cap, which for the 2022 fiscal year is $4.456 billion.
Which organizations qualify for E-Rate?The FCC follows strict guidelines for which schools and libraries are eligible. Here are the key definitions to know:
- Elementary schools must be non-profits, including public, charter, and residential schools.
- Secondary schools must be non-profit public or charter schools through grade 12.
For-profit schools and schools with an endowment of $50 million or more are not eligible. Some non-traditional programs from pre-kindergarten to adult education may be eligible under limited non-traditional education criteria.
Libraries also must meet a strict set of criteria for E-Rate. Eligible libraries include public libraries, public school libraries, tribal libraries, and academic libraries. Research libraries are eligible if they’re publicly available and not part of a college or university. Private libraries may be eligible in some circumstances when they’re convenient and open to the public.
The library must act as an independent entity with its budget separate from any other school. For example, if an elementary school library wants inclusion, it would have to work for approval for the entire elementary school.
How are E-Rate funds Allocated?E-Rate funds are available for schools and libraries in all areas, but those in areas with high poverty rates are eligible for the biggest discounts. This needs-based approach helps economically disadvantaged regions access internet and telecommunications services that may otherwise be prohibitively expensive. In some low-income communities, subsidized internet access at schools or libraries could be an individual’s only access to critical web-based services and resources.
E-Rate is intended to complement local internet access subsidies and doesn’t have to be used independently.
How to apply for E-Rate
- Check your eligibility for E-Rate: If you think you meet the eligibility criteria listed above, head to the government website and check the official source to ensure you can access E-Rate.
- Submit a request to the USAC: While it’s an FCC program, it’s administered by the USAC. Your school or library should submit a request for competitive bids to the USAC, which posts the opportunity on a public site for vendor bids.
- Select the most cost-effective option: Working with the USAC, your school or library picks the right combination of eligible products and services to meet your needs cost-effectively. You can submit your final E-Rate application to the USAC using this bid.
- Receive funding commitments: With your pre-discount bid, the USAC issues funding commitments to eligible schools and libraries. Once approved, you can confidently move forward with the project knowing your funding is secured, and you’re getting the best available deal.
- Receive funds: Once services are active, the vendor or applicant submits a request for reimbursement to the USAC.