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Will E-Rate Be Revived?

Getting software cycles aligned is just one of the technology-purchasing issues facing the nation's schools and libraries. These agencies are also on the hook to provide telecommunications and Internet service, two tech areas that can be difficult to navigate and susceptible to waste and abuse.

But within a new telecommunications reform bill is language that could breathe new life into what's known as the E-rate program, a $2.25 billion fund for schools serving low-income areas that can help educational organizations acquire telecom and online services. The changes could put E-rate back on track by expanding the number of agencies it serves and improving accountability.

E-rate falls under the Universal Services Program (USP), which helps ensure affordable access nationwide to telephone and Internet connections. Currently, telephone companies that provide long-distance services pay into E-rate's coffers (by way of the taxes customers pay on long-distance calls). But as more people use services such as VoIP, those contributions are shrinking, says Chrisanne Gayl, director of federal programs at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in Alexandria, Va.

In May, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) sponsored a broad telecommunications reform bill, part of which tackles E-rate issues. As outlined, the bill would:

  • Extend the E-rate program for schools and libraries
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