- Due to the amount of planning and paperwork necessary, it's never too early to start filing for 2018 funding from the FCC's E-rate program, according to Ed Tech: Focus on K-12.
- In particular, it's suggested that administrators file their Form 470 early to allow plenty of time for the 28-day bidding process, as the window closes as soon as the end of February and waiting til the last minute can require the filing of a Form 471 and a more hectic bid process.
- Districts and schools should also start reviewing their infrastructure to identify what needs they'll have a year from now, while also calculating the expected E-rate funding budget of $150 per student plus inflation for each building to figure out how much is left after amounts requested in previous years against how much might be needed for various infrastructure needs.
The E-rate program offers significant benefits to schools when it comes to ensuring infrastructure is up-to-date and capable of handling the demands of increasingly tech-centric classrooms. This is especially true for rural and urban schools with otherwise limited resources.
According to Funds for Learning's 2016 E-Rate Trends Report, the number of high-speed internet requests doubled year-over-year and most applicants expected their bandwidth needs to grow, and the applicants skewed more rural than urban at 54% and 46%, respectively.
The prior year also saw a 12% decline in total applicants, more of whom also relied on consultants to help with the process. The complexity of that process is yet another reason to get ahead on filing for 2018 funds. This has been, as Ed Tech notes, a primary 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.
Growing concern around the "homework gap," which sees students who don't have reliable broadband access or devices at home put at a disadvantage in device-and-broadband-dependent classroom environments, has also led to talk around whether E-rate funds could eventually be used to increase equity on that front. It was a primary concern for former Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was recently nominated back to that post by President Donald Trump and could now return to continue advocating for that cause.