E-Rate includes funding for PDAs, VoIP, wireless services

E-Rate to subsidize BlackBerry and Treo services, VoIP networks and other modern telecom bells and whistles.

The overhauled federal E-Rate program includes funding for email service for mobile, wireless devices, such as the BlackBerry and Palm Treo, reports Ed Week. This is good news for teachers and administrators who need to keep in touch with schools while on the go.

"All our administrators use BlackBerries," said Frank R. Buck, the curriculum and special education supervisor for the Talladega, Ala., city school district.

The $2.25 billion E-Rate program, which subsides technology in the schools, has put PDAs and some other mobile devices on its "eligible-services list." Along with the mobile devices, E-Rate will subsidize Internet-based voice services that use school broadband networks. VoIP telephony, offered by providers such as Vonage and Skype, are cheaper and offer more features than regular phone service, school officials say.

E-rate discounts will make the wireless email and interconnected VoIP services even cheaper. The decade-old federal program collects fees paid by telephone customers into a universal-service fund that covers from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of eligible school telecommunications services, depending on the poverty level of the district's students.

The FCC has made these service eligible:

  • Interconnected VoIP,
  • VoIP equipment
  • Wireless Internet-access service designed for portable devices, (such as BlackBerries)
  • Training for installation and configuration, as long as it is provided at the same time as, or soon after, installation of eligible components
  • Universal-service fees on schools' telecommunications services Voice- or video-conferencing services
  • Digital-transmission services, which enable schools to run distance-learning programs
  • Paging services for bus drivers or teachers on field trips
  • E-mail and Web hosting
  • Long-distance and local telephone service
  • Internet services, including access charges
  • Internal connections, including cables, hubs, and routers in a school's computer network.

Ineligible for E-Rate funding:

  • Fees for universal-service administration
  • Portable wireless devices (such as PDAs and BlackBerry devices), including those that provide wireless Internet access to e-mail service
  • Personal computers
  • Cellphones
  • Educational software and other content
  • Teacher training

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