E-rate deadline approaching

Bandwidth recommendations by school and/or district size. This information is from the Arizona Department of Education and the E-rate program through the Broadband Initiative. More information can be found by visiting http://www.azed.gov/erate/. The E-rate program provides discounts to schools or districts in need of better internet access for digital learning opportunities. The Arizona Department of Education has over $10M in state matching funds available for use this year to finance over $100M in construction of internet services. Their goal, “...make sure EVERY student in Arizona has at least 1.5M of internet bandwidth available for their use.”

WHITE MOUNTAINS — There is light at the end of the internet connection, at least for schools and libraries.

The light comes in the form of the E-rate program. The program provides Arizona schools and libraries the opportunity to receive federal and state funding to obtain better internet access. However, the deadline to apply for E-rate funds is February 21, depending on the type of construction needed to bring internet to your facility.

Why is E-rate important to Apache & Navajo Counties?

This program has been implemented because the Arizona Department of Education, through the Broadband Initiative, recognized that “....many schools in the state’s most rural areas cannot access Internet that is fast enough to support digital learning and many other technological opportunities for students that are commonplace within urban centers.”

Many schools and libraries within the White Mountains and surrounding rural areas may fall into the category of “areas that cannot access internet that is fast enough.” This program intends to respond to that regional, rural, wide-spread need. This includes areas within Apache and Navajo counties.

How did E-rate develop?

E-rate is one of the first initiatives of the Broadband Initiative which recognizes that, “currently, only 23 percent of Arizona school districts meet national affordability benchmarks for broadband access.” This is according to the Arizona Department of Education, (ADE), which has designed the E-rate program to work in conjunction with the Arizona Corporation Commission and the not-for-profit Education Super Highway.

The result of their collaboration has resulted in $8 million dollars in funding for the 2017-2018 budget. Governor Doug Ducey also allocated funds to supplement the Arizona E-rate program.

The Arizona Corporation Commission has also created a short, informative You Tube video that explains the Broadband Initiative and the E-rate program: https://youtu.be/Jovl93vHsJs

Why is it important to apply now?

The clock is ticking to take advantage of E-rate funding because the funds were set aside for the 2017-2018 budget cycle.

The state of Arizona also recognized that, “Oftentimes, service providers struggle to make a high enough return on investment to dedicate resources and build infrastructure out to the most remote schools.”

In addition to discounts that schools can receive through the E-rate program, the state of Arizona is matching up to 10 percent in construction costs to bring the connectivity to rural areas. E-Rate, in turn, is matching an additional 10 percent.

In many instances, this will mean that 100 percent of the cost for a school, a district or a library to obtain upgraded internet services will be covered.

Simply stated, the Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative, there is an incredible opportunity to address Arizona’s broadband needs.

Setting the foundation

Milan Eaton is the Arizona state E-rate Director with the ADE and has dedicated resources to help make the application process easy, as well as a foundation for the statewide Broadband Initiative.

In May 2017, Eaton said that, “...while this funding is only for schools and libraries, communities can piggyback on the project by paying their share to connect town hall buildings, police departments and hospitals, which would also bring access to the public as cable is laid across communities to connect schools and government.” Eaton added that, “putting broadband infrastructure in place, more private internet service provider companies will be attracted to the area, which will increase access and reduce overall costs.”

Local expert, Ken DeWitt with Navajo County explained that, “Most schools and libraries are taking advantage of this program in their Districts. Navajo County is coordinating a regional initiative to leverage a larger Wide Area Network, (WAN).”

DeWitt summarized the program saying, “This is an opportunity to leverage the federal e-rate program for Schools and Libraries that includes State funds so there would not be any construction costs from these local agencies.”

Eaton explained that, “As a state with many regions that possess a critical need for expanding broadband services, I deeply support this initiative and what it can do for Arizona. In the rural areas of this state, many underserved schools are missing out on opportunities taken for granted by urban and suburban schools.”

Reach the reporter at lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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