By: Chris Oskuie, Director – Segment Marketing, Education | Brocade
Queue up R.E.M., and it’s the end of E-rate as we know it. But is that such a bad thing?
From a networking vendor’s standpoint, E-rate modernization in 2015 (discussed in my previous blog post) was a much needed modification, but far from perfect.
Case in point, it’s April 2017, and yet funding requests from FY15 are still being dispersed. More than two and a half years after the request was submitted, the funds are just now being provided to the schools. This kind of lag makes it impossible for schools to plan and budget appropriately for the use of E-rate funds, especially in a modern, digital era.
In addition, we have seen a precipitous decline in the number of category two requests between FY2015 and FY2016. To the tune of a 30% drop. To make matters even worse, the current numbers are showing another potential 30% drop in filings between FY16 and FY17. Almost every E-rate related survey that was completed after the modernization effort in 2015 said that $150 dollars per student (pre-discount) over five years was not enough budget for category two projects. Yet, three years into the revised program, and only 25% of schools have maxed out their category two budget.
So where is the disconnect? Can it be blamed solely on the EPC rollout? Or is it a lack of funding for USAC that causes the delays in disbursements? Or is it a more endemic issue with the E-rate request process?
Many thought leaders within the education community are concerned that the new acting FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, is going to dismantle, or even do away with, E-rate all together. Several direct comments from the chairman, including the Student-Centered E-rate speech circa 2013, suggests that he values the role E-rate plays in bringing technology into the hands of our future generation, but thinks some changes are overdue (see page 6 of the speech). His comments include streamlining the disbursement process and giving schools more flexibility on how they choose to use their E-rate budget towards technology purchases.
So, it may be the end of E-rate as we know it, and I feel fine.