After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Mike Morath, the TEA Commissioner, petitioned the FCC to provide some relief through the E-rate program for school districts and charter schools affected by the disaster. On Monday, October 30, the FCC released an order granting much of the relief requested by the Commissioner.
The highlights of the order are below; however, this should NOT be considered legal advice. If your school or library was affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria, I highly encourage you to read the order to make sure you understand the particulars.
Purpose of the E-rate Order:
- The purpose of the temporary changes to the rules is to assist schools and libraries that need to rebuild facilities and replace equipment destroyed by one of these three hurricanes, and take other steps necessary to reinstate E-rate eligible services for the students they serve (page 5).
- Any additional E-rate funding received pursuant to this Order will be used solely to restore E-rate eligible services to the level of functionality that immediately preceded the hurricanes (page 5).
- This additional support is only available after entities utilize other available resources such as insurance, public assistance monies from FEMA, or support from community organizations or donations (page 5).
To Whom Does It Apply?
- Schools or libraries that are located in what the FCC order identifies as “directly impacted areas” are provided relief in this order. These are schools and libraries that are located in counties designated by FEMA as eligible for individual disaster assistance and that incurred substantial damage to E-rate eligible services by one of the hurricanes.
- Schools whose student enrollment have increased by 5% or more because of the hurricanes are also eligible for some relief.
Temporary Rule Changes
Increased Flexibility for Service Substitutions
Directly impacted applicants will be given some flexibility to substitute services based on their local needs without being constrained by categories of service or service types (e.g., applicants may substitute internet access service with internal connections and vice versa). For more details, see pages 6 and 7 of the order.
Second FY 2017 Application Window
- The FCC order establishes a second FY 2017 Application Window for directly impacted applicants. This will allow these entities to request additional E-rate discounts for the purchase of replacement products and services, subject to the parameters and limitations in this order (page 7).
- This second window will open 14 days after the release of this Order and will remain open for 30 days (page 8). My estimate is that, since the order was released on October 30, the window will open on November 13 and close on or around December 12. The USAC has not yet provided guidance on the exact date of when the window will open and close (page 8).
- The FCC also directed the Bureau to work with USAC in the coming months to formulate a plan for providing additional relief, if necessary (page 8).
Changes to Rules Pertaining to Competitive Bidding
- The directly impacted applicants may use contracts that were obtained and used for the submission of Form 470s and 471s in the first FY 2017 Application Window that resulted in a Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) from USAC (page 9).
- If new contracts are required, directly impacted applicants are required to wait only 14 days prior to selecting a service and submitting a FCC Form 471 requesting E-rate support (page 9).
Discount Rate Change
For services requested in the Second FY 2017 Application Window, all directly impacted applicants will receive a 90% discount rate for Category 1 services and an 85% discount rate for Category 2 services. This is contingent upon meeting the criteria set forth in the order (page 9-10).
In addition, a new five year window begins for directly impacted applicants who apply for Category 2 services (page 10).
Schools Only Affected by Increased Student Population Due to Hurricanes
If a school’s population has increased by 5 percent or more due to the hurricanes, they may also submit a supplementary FCC Form 471 during the Second FY 2017 Application Window to request additional funding. See page 11 of the Order to see the qualifying conditions to receive this additional funding.
The USAC should be posting additional information soon. If you think your school or library might be eligible and this additional funding will assist in the recovery effort after the hurricanes, I urge you to read the Order and immediately take steps to take advantage of this opportunity. As new information becomes available, I will update this post.
The USAC and FCC are hosting a free webinar on Monday, November 13 at 2:00 PM Central to provide information on the FCC’s order to provide emergency assistance to restore connectivity in schools and libraries affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria through the E-rate program. You can register here.
This blog was updated with additional resources on November 10, 2017.