Universal Service & E-Rates
(from Maine Townsman)

"to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges…"

-The Purpose of the United States Communications Law as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996

As promised last month, I am returning to the FFC and the Universal Service provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. We have already felt some of the effects of the Telecom Act in the enhanced 9-1-1 enactment and expanded services to rural areas and low-income consumers. The Act also places an emphasis on competition and deregulation. The major change, which will affect local governments, is the Snowe-Kerrey-Rockefeller-Exon Amendment to the Telecom Act that provides for discounts to schools, libraries, and rural health care providers.

The money for these discounts comes from the Universal Service Fund which is made up of contributions from all interstate telecommunications carriers based on gross interstate and intrastate revenue. Rural public and non-profit health care providers have access to $400 million a year in Universal Service Fund support. This money can be used for telecommunication services including Internet access. The schools and libraries part of the Fund is capped at $2.25 billion per year. The availability of the funds is on a "first come-first serve" basis. Therefore it is prudent to be early with the request for funds.

According to the Snowe-Rockefeller Amendment, a discount plan is to be put into effect. The school or library would pay its percentage and the service provider would bill the Fund for the difference. Based on the % of students eligible for the national school lunch program and whether it is within a rural or urban area, the school or library can qualify for a 20% to a 90% discount. On July 16, 1997, Maine’s PUC accepted the following FFC discount matrix:

% School Lunch Eligible Discount for Urban Discount for Rural

        <1%                     20%                               25%  

         1%-19%                     40%                               50%

       20%-34%                    50%                               60%

      35%-49%                    60%                               70%

      50%-74%                    80%                              80%

      75%-100%            90%                              90%

The discounts can be used for any telecommunications services that will meet the needs of the school or library including basic phone service, leased data circuits, Internet access, wiring, routers, hubs, and servers. It does not include personal computers, modems, FAX machines, electrical system upgrades, content, or training.

Requests for funds by K-12 schools and public libraries need to be filed before January 1, 1998. The process is still being worked out on the state and federal level. Walt Taranko at the Maine State Library is coordinating the efforts for the schools and libraries and will be releasing information as soon as it is available. A page is maintained at the Maine State Library web site to provide information on this subject (http://www.state.me.us/msl/erate.htm).

One requirement for applying will be the writing of a technology plan. If a plan was done as part of the School and Library Network application, then this will probably be usable for this application. However, some may not have yet begun this process. To qualify for these discounts a plan needs to be started now. To get you started: "Writing Public Library Technology Plans," which was developed for the American Library Association’s 1996 Conference Roundtable Presentation, is posted on a web site at http://www.molo.lib.oh.us/wnew/referen/techplan.htm. If you don’t have access to the Internet, you can contact me at MMA’s Local Government Resource Center and we can get you a printout.

Municipal governments need to become involved with the development of technology within their communities. The development of several different technology plans within a community without a strong technology plan for the entire community can grow into a patchwork of overlapping development. Although the Telecom Act discounts and the School and Library Network have provided a push for the development of technology plans, the needs of the whole community, including local government, should also be considered in any plan developed. This is an opportunity to coordinate efforts and create community-wide technology development.