6.6 The E-Rate in the United States


The E-Rate: Subsidized Discounts

The United States provides an example of discounted Internet access for schools.  The discounts function as an extension of the country's longstanding support mechanisms for achieving universal service.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 revised the universal service support system in the United States. One new provision was the inclusion of affordable telecommunication service to primary and secondary schools. It functions by providing discounts to educational institutions for their telecommunications and Internet access service bills.  The subsidized amount is reimbursed by the federal Universal Service Fund (USF), to which all operators contribute.  Under the supervision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a specialized company known as the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) administers the USF's Schools and Libraries Programme known as E-Rate.  

Eligible schools request the E-Rate discounts for four service categories: telecommunication services, Internet access, internal connections, and basic maintenance of internal connections.  The discounts range from 20-90 per cent, based on the level of poverty and the location (urban or rural) of the students.

Schools applying for the E-Rate discount must:

  1. Submit a plan that shows how technology will be used to improve curriculum or library services, as well as how E-Rate funds and other financial resources will be used; 
  2. Submit a description of services requested (which is put online to notify service providers about the products and services being requested); 
  3. Select a service provider from the bids submitted; 
  4. Submit a certification form to request funding.

The E-Rate program disbursed more than USD 16 billion in funding to schools nationwide between 1998 and 2008.148  The E-Rate has been instrumental in boosting Internet access and broadband connectivity in public schools.  In 1995, only half of the nation's public schools had Internet access.  By 2005, all of them were connected to the Internet, and 97 per cent had broadband connectivity.149 

Figure ‎6‑2: Percentage of Public Schools with Internet Access, United States

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

148Universal Service Fund Facts, USAC, available at: http://www.usac.org/about/universal-service/fund-facts/fund-facts.aspx

149Wells, J., and Lewis, L.  (2006).  Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994–2005(NCES 2007-020).  U.S. Department of Education.  Washington, DC:  National Center for Education Statistics.  http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007020