Schools and libraries competing for lucrative Net access discounts can now apply for the federal program--get this--online.
The Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC) launched an all-inclusive Web site today that leads applicants through the process for obtaining the so-called e-rate and accepts completed forms over the Net.
The discounts are doled out as part of the nation's Universal Service fund, which is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission. The SLC is a nonprofit organization set up by the FCC to administer the plan, which promises to give out up to $2.5 billion annually in discounts provided by the telecommunications industry.
More than 125,000 low-income and rural schools and libraries are eligible for the discounts. Since December, however, only 800 applications have been turned in.
The Net application program can be used by 1,000 simultaneous users, and was created in hopes of spreading word about the program while simplifying the process, Jodie Buenning, a spokeswoman for SLC, says.
"The Web site is designed to be user friendly for use from any type of computer or browser," she said. "Once they fill out the application and send it over the Net, they have to print out last page of the application, sign it, and mail it in for legal purposes."
Today also marks the beginning of a 75-day window in which all applications filed will be equally considered. After April 14, applications will be reviewed and granted on a first-come basis.
One approved, schools' and libraries' technology plans are posted on the SLC Web site so that companies can then competitively bid to provide them Net access services at a discount.