With the recent changes made in the E-rate program, districts and libraries have new options that are available to help them achieve their connectivity goals. To help districts understand how they can utilize these new rules, TCEA hosted the Fiber Boot Camp on Friday, August 28th, at the TCEA Conference Center in Austin, Texas. We brought in experts from the FCC, the USAC, and the non-profit EducationSuperHighway to illuminate how the new rules can be used to solve the attendees specific connectivity problems. The presenters were Dana Shaffer, the Deputy Managing Director of the FCC; Joe Fredosso, a consultant representing the USAC; Tony Swei, the co-founder of the EducationSuperHighway; and Yasmin Narielvala the Director of District Programs, also from the EducationSuperHighway.
Dana Shaffer and Joe Fredosso went over the new rules and then took questions to help clarify the rules and answer questions about specific situations from those in attendance. Tony Swei and Yasmin Narielvala shared the mission of the EducationSuperHighway and went over a new tool they launched this August, the Fiber Tool Kit. The tool kit is designed to help school districts explore their options to purchase or lease lit or dark fiber. They provided information that will help a district know how much broadband they should get, how they can secure funding, what are the types of services that are available, and how to write a good RFP.
The big takeaway from the discussion was to recognize that the new E-rate rules allow districts to do things they haven’t been able to do before. Three main points to remember are:
- The new rules allow school districts to lease dark fiber and receive discounts on the fiber as well as the electronics to light the dark fiber beginning in 2015-2016.
- Also beginning in 2015-2016, in some situations, districts will be allowed to self-provision (own) the fiber if it is the most cost effective solution.
- Up until now, the E-rate program would only provide discounts on construction projects that costs $500,000 or less. For four years, they are suspending that cap. This is an opportunity to utilize E-rate funds for those districts whose construction costs for fiber installation exceed that amount.
One other opportunity provided by the new rules is that the E-rate program will provide up to an extra 10% discount on special construction costs for fiber installation if the state of Texas matches up to 10% of the total cost of the construction. Currently, Texas hasn’t made plans to do this, but TCEA is working to ensure that policy makers know about this option in case there is a willingness to provide this additional funding.
The presentations and other resources for the boot camp can be accessed here.