Since its FCC implementation in 1997, the E-rate program has successfully evolved in response to a world of limitless digital content and opportunities for personalized learning. And while the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” idiom remains a popular decree for some in government and society alike, the FCC’s most recent E-rate Modernization Order adeptly refocused the program’s transition from legacy services to broadband support via their Category Two service (internal connections, managed Wi-Fi, and basic maintenance). In fact, E-rate has affected millions of students and library patrons across the country.

The advancement of digital teaching and learning in the U.S. has accelerated due in large part to the E-rate program. Since its inception in 1996 as part of the Universal Service Fund, E-rate has helped more than 100,000 schools and libraries connect to the Internet.

If you revisit the July 11, 2014 Modernization Order, you’ll see that the FCC adopted three broad goals for the E-rate program:

(1) Ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband sufficient to support digital learning in schools and robust connectivity for all libraries

(2) Maximizing the cost-effectiveness of spending for E-rate supported purchases

(3) Making the E-rate application process and other E-rate processes fast, simple and efficient

In additional to the overwhelming usage of the E-rate offering by schools and libraries, you can loosely measure the ongoing success of the program by returning to these goals, now three years and application cycles into the Modernization Order. The 20 to 90 percent E-rate discount (depending on the category of support, a library’s or school’s urban/rural status, and the percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program), as well the vendor evaluation and selection process, has addressed two of these goals, namely affordable access to high-speed connectivity and maximizing cost-effectiveness. The third—making the process fast, simple and efficient—continues to be a moving target for applicants, large and small alike. Fortunately, as the program grows, so too does the wealth of resources intending to benefit both novice and seasoned E-rate applicants.

Cisco’s recent white paper, Understanding E-rate—Get the most out of your E-rate dollars, provides a helpful overview of the program and shares best practices schools can use to shape their network strategy. The whitepaper complements a growing list of collateral aiming to make awareness and navigation of the E-rate process as seamless as possible. (You may also find these “tips from E-rate pros” helpful.) In addition, the FCC’s Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) site contains beneficial updates and training opportunities.

To learn more about E-rate and how Cisco can help your school or library navigate your digital learning journey, please visit www.cisco.com/go/erate. The site is home to a number of helpful resources, including a link to a recording of our recent webinar, “Discover how you can capture your share of $3.9B E-rate funding,” which offers the perspectives of E-rate experts and educators.


Vince Siragusa

Public Funding Advisor

Public Funding Office