6.13 United States
The U.S. approach has been to subsidize discounted service provided by private operators. The E-Rate programme underwrites discounts for telecommunication services provided to schools, libraries and other educational institutions. Operated in conjunction with the country’s universal service fund, E-Rate spent more than USD 16 billion from 1998 to 2008. As a result, 100 per cent of American schools have Internet access, and 97 per cent have broadband connections.
The E-Rate programme, officially known as Universal Service Schools and Libraries Discount Mechanism, was created as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act 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. The Act specifically created an additional new (the fourth) Universal Service Fund programme to help schools and libraries connect to the Internet. The programme's policies and rules were designed to promote competition between service providers and to give applicants (that is, the schools and libraries) the most cost-effective means to connect to the Internet. The E-Rate programme is funded with USD 2.25 billion dollars annually from the Universal Service Fund.252 This programme is supported by assessments on telecommunications companies, not the federal budget.
The E-Rate Programme 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 programme.
To be eligible to receive discounts, a school or library must meet certain eligibility criteria. In general, elementary and secondary schools --including many private and religious schools -- are eligible to receive discounts. Public libraries and library systems also can receive E-rate discounts, provided they meet the eligibility requirements set for them.
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 per cent to 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 programme disbursed more than USD 16 billion in funding to schools nationwide between 1998 and 2008. The E-Rate has been instrumental in boosting Internet access and broadband connectivity in U.S. public schools.253 E-rate funding requests for Priority 1 services (telecommunications and Internet access) have risen steadily over the past five years, from USD 1.8 billion in 2008 to USD 2.4 billion in 2012. 254
Seeking to respond to technology trends, the FCC recently has adopted a new E-Rate policy to help bring affordable, super-fast fibre connections to America's schools and libraries. It allows participants to use E-Rate funds to connect to the Internet in the most cost-effective way possible, including via unused fibre lines already in place across the country or through existing state, regional and local networks. With these fibre networks, schools and libraries can provide students and communities with cutting-edge connectivity, while saving millions of dollars.255
The FCC is also launching "School Spots," a programme that allows schools to provide Internet access to the local community after students go home. With affordable fibre links, these School Spots are a major step toward the National Broadband Plan's goal of connecting an anchor institution in every community to affordable 1 gigabit-per-second broadband service. 256
ERate Funding Proces Website. Available at: http://fundsforlearning.com/index.php
253 Universal Service Fund Facts, USAC, available at: http://www.usac.org/about/universal-service/fund-facts/fund-facts.aspx
254 2012 Survey Part 3: Current Technology Use and Plans For The Future, August 1, 2012. Available at: http://www.fundsforlearning.com/blog/2012/08/2012-survey-part-3-current-technology-use-and-plans-future