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Friday, January 24, 2014


Another year another E-Rate Survival Guide from E-SchoolNews.  (I know they'd like it spelled eSchoolNews, but as I promised, if they're going to pervert the name of our beloved program to "eRate," I will make my own changes to their name.)

I wouldn't say it's really a survival guide.  More of a "State of the Program."  But it has good information, and finishes with the suggestion that applicants should hire a consultant, and of course I'm behind that.

Since Mitel sponsored the guide, it's no surprise that it includes a suggestion that given the current funding shortage is to shift costs to Priority One by purchasing hosted voice services like, say, Mitel's MiCloud VoIP service.

That's pretty good advice for many applicants, and hosted VoIP is the way a lot of applicants are going, especially smaller ones.  But there is one niggling worry in the back of my mind.

Change is coming to the E-Rate.  It is likely that by Funding Year 2015-2016, the program will be focused on increasing the bandwidth to schools.  One of the ways that the FCC is considering to find more funding for bandwidth is to kick some outmoded services out of the program.  For example, it looks like pagers' days are numbered.  The problem is, if you only throw out completely outmoded services, you only save a tiny amount of money, since no one is using those services (kind of the definition of "outmoded").  If the FCC wants to really save money, they're going to have to toss out popular services.  One of the suggestions has been to throw voice services out of the program, or at least move it to a lower priority.  The comments of the commissioners make it sound like they want to keep VoIP and toss out traditional voice, but it's hard to see how they do that in a technologically neutral way.

If the FCC does kick voice out, they may phase it out.  (That doesn't solve the funding crunch, but it would be a typical political move to modify a reform to make it more palatable, which makes the reform ineffective.)  But there is a chance that they won't make the change gradually, especially if they're just demoting voice to a lower priority.  The Commission has been known to make rule changes retroactively.

So there is an outside chance that the FCC will change the eligibility of voice, lump VoIP in there, and make the change happen instantly. In that case, it's possible that hosted voice plans won't be funded in 2015-2016.  If you move to hosted voice in 2014-2015, you're almost certainly signing a contract for at least 3 years.  So there is some chance that you won't have E-Rate funding for years 2 and 3 of that contract.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's a bad time to count on E-Rate funding for a multi-year contract, unless maybe it's for bandwidth.

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