E-Rate Program and the R.I. Telecommunications Education Access Fund (RITEAF)

E-Rate is the common name of the federal Schools and Libraries Program (SLD) of the Universal Service Fund, under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The program provides discounts schools and libraries to obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.

RITEAF supplements the E-Rate program and ensures that Internet access and other network resources are available and affordable for all private and public K12 schools and all public libraries.

The RITEAF legislation will enable the PUC to assess a surcharge on the services provided by all telecommunications carriers operating in the State, a charge currently set at $0.26 per land phone line. Telecommunication Education Access Fund Surcharge.

Eligibility

All schools seeking support from RITEAF must be eligible for Universal Service (E-Rate) support and meet the definition of "elementary school" or "secondary school" in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (20 U.S.C. § 8801). Schools operating as a for-profit business or with endowments exceeding fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) are not eligible for support. All libraries seeking support from the fund must meet the definition of "library" or "library consortium" in the Library Services and Technology Act, P.L. 104-208, § 211 et seq., 110 Stat. 3009 (1996) and must be eligible for assistance from a state library administrative agency under that act. Only libraries that have budgets that are completely separate from any schools (including, but not limited to, elementary and secondary, colleges and universities) shall be eligible to receive support. Libraries operating as a for-profit business shall not be eligible for support.


Additional Information

RITEAF is a subsidy program funded by the state of Rhode Island and the federal E-Rate program. The program relies on a consortium application submitted by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) so that matching funds from E-Rate can be obtained.

RITEAF requires schools and libraries to participate in the E-Rate program.

The materials required by RIDE to process the RITEAF awards to schools and the application to the E-Rate program can be downloaded using the links listed below.

Verify updated Technology Plan is on file at RIDE by contacting Karen Cooper.

Verify updated Technology Plan is on file at RIDE by contacting Karen Cooper.

Verify updated Library Technology Plan is on file at the Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) by contacting Chaichin Chen

Q. How do I know if my school or library is eligible for the free lines provided by the RITEAF program?

A. Most schools and libraries are eligible so long as they adhere to the requirements of demonstrating the need for subsidies by identifying the number of students in their school or district who qualify for financial aid or participate the National School Lunch Program. NSLP participation is not required, but the school MUST use the federal eligibility guidelines to determine how many of their students would qualify. Private and independent school that do not participate in the NSLP should use the current Income Eligibility Guidelines and the E-Rate discount matrix table found on the Private School Enrollment form to help determine discounts. 

 Q. Is there any limit to the amount of line capacity (bandwidth) my school, district or library can request?

A. The size of the line allocated to each school or library is reflected by its need as demonstrated by enrollment data, the school Technology Plan, and usage monitoring performed on behalf of the Department. The program has limited funds that must be fairly distributed throughout the state. Consideration of more needy schools and/or libraries must be a factor when choosing the size of the line allocated to your school or library. So far, no school has been denied any reasonable request.

Q. I want the free lines, but why do I have to provide student enrollment information, or sample Financial Aid information, or Certifications?

A. Subsidies are given based upon need and need must be documented in forms that allow RIDE to determine what schools/libraries require for assistance. This is done for the purposes of fairness to all schools and libraries in the state and in compliance with the E-Rate subsidies that are acquired by the Department of Education on behalf of your school/library. A failure to provide this documentation leaves RIDE unable to collect the federal subsidies.

Q. My school does not participate in the National School Lunch Program. How do I know if my Financial Aid criteria are equivalent to the NSLP?

A. Using the guidelines updated each year by the federal government, it is easy to compare the NSLP criteria to the FINANCIAL AID programs run by most schools. The most recent Income Eligibility Guidelines posted on the USDA site are enclosed, and can be used in conjunction with your Financial Aid program.  

Normally each spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ("USDA") publishes a revised income eligibility table for free and reduced-priced school meals. The table is important from an E-rate perspective because these guidelines are also used to determine a school's discount rate.

So far this year, new 2010-2011 income guidelines have not been released by USDA. Instead, USDA is advising schools to use the 2009-2010 income levels "until further notice." The problem appears to be that the inflationary formula used to adjust the income eligibility numbers, calculated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, uses CPI data that would result in a decrease in the income level guidelines. No one wants to see a decrease. As a result, Congress has been enacting, and the President has been signing, temporary statutory extensions to keep the 2009-2010 guidelines in effect.

Q. If all I want is the line subsidies and nothing else, do I have any other forms to submit to RIDE or the SLD (E-RATE) program?

A. You’re done as long as you have your school listed by the SLD, have been assigned a Billed Entity Number (BEN) by them, and have acquired an FCC-FRN (or CORES) number. The latter is provided by the FCC.

Q. If the lines are free, why is there a cost for the Internet Access service?

A. Accessing the Internet requires both lines and Internet service. For most home applications these components are combined for a set price, while with other commercial, large capacity applications, these two components may be separated and bid on in a competitive manner. The RITEAF program is unable to absorb the total cost for both components and therefore RITEAF only subsidizes the commercial quality lines.

Q. How is the Internet provider selected?

A. A bid is posted for not less than 28 days. (Typically RIDE posts for up to 60 days.) The potential vendor must bid on all districts and schools and provide a useful set of services to enable schools and libraries to access the Internet. Cost, features, capacity, and reliability are all taken into account in the decision. While effective filtering approaches and access to Internet2 are not deciding factors, they are desirable features. Schools or districts that choose to acquire a vendor through their own bids or other methods must acquire lines separately from this program as they may not meet ERATE requirements and could result in funding denials.

The Department of Education manages the allocation of line awards to the districts, independent and parochial schools and libraries. The size of the line awards have been managed (but rarely limited) based on a series of factors:

 End user request.
 Demonstrated need (using Solar Winds software)
 Legitimate purpose (educational access to Internet)
 Available funds (from RITEAF/E-Rate)

 End user requests:

Eligible entities are invited to submit a request for the line sizes they want the department to award to their schools, libraries or districts as one task in the annual E-Rate application preparation. Interest in taking advantage of these subsidized lines has been steadily increasing as schools and districts integrate more and more web-based applications into teaching, learning, and administrative business processes. While the accompanying cost of end-user termination equipment and Internet Access may be prohibitive for a small number of private schools where use of Internet services is minimal, this subsidized resource has become the backbone of a statewide intranet connecting all of the public schools and many of the private schools in our state.

Today we find public school districts, especially, and private schools to a lesser extent, demanding ever increasing amounts of bandwidth. Centralized data servers, instructional tools requiring advanced video and audio capability, IP telephony, and video streaming and conferencing quickly outstrip what were once adequate network infrastructures. The intent of the state’s support for district infrastructure was limited to providing adequate access to the Internet. So the question that arises is: will the increasing demand for increased phone service and services that extend beyond basic Internet access exceed the legislative interest in providing support?

 Demonstrated need (replacing building size):

Early on, at the beginning of the E-Rate program, we intuitively were able to assign a line to a school based on building size. It was a simple matter of recognizing that a large high school would readily exploit the largest line then available (T-1) whereas an elementary school might not be able to take advantage of the fraction of that same T-1.

Today, we use tools that generate a graphic representation of the real-time activity and/or a historical record of a school’s data lines such as illustrated in the graph shown at the top of the page, replacing the intuition we once relied on with reliable data. Upgrade requests can be quickly assessed for their reasonableness. At the same time, network anomalies, such as unexplained usage overnight or saturated lines as a result of virus attacks or network takeovers can be exposed.

 Legitimate purpose:

The RITEAF legislation limits programmatic support to schools and libraries for connecting lines to access the Internet. This limitation also ensures that the services provided will meet the E-Rate program’s eligibility requirements to qualify for Priority 1 services. The E-Rate requirements for treating connecting lines between computers at various locations within districts as Priority 1 services is limited to basic conduit access to the Internet when provided by non- and registered telecommunications carriers.

For our purposes and when considering the RITEAF legislative limitations, the required access to the Internet suggests another test of reasonableness. Line capacity that exceeds a district’s purchased Internet Access, suggests that the funding is being requested to support the District’s WAN and not just Internet Access. The RITEAF program management supports as legitimate requests those where the requested line capacity between building sites does not exceed the line capacity necessary to reach the Internet.

 Available funds:

For Funding Year 2010, the source of funding for RITEAF is a 26 cent surcharge on all eligible land lines in RI. Many government lines as well as all cell phone services are exempt from the surcharge. The legislature is considering a request for an increase to 33 cents. Such an increase would help fund the increased demand for Internet lines from schools and libraries. Ultimately, all telephone service users should expect to help pay for this important service.