The E-Rate program was created as part of the 1996 reauthorization of the Telecommunications Act. E-Rate, formally known as the Schools and Libraries Program, is one of four programs funded through the Universal Services Fund (USF).

It is overseen by the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the programmatic aspects of E-Rate.

What does E-Rate do? It provides libraries and elementary/secondary schools with discounts that assist in making telecommunications/Internet connectivity more affordable. Generally speaking, E-Rate funds are used in one of four broad areas of service: telecommunications/phone service, Internet connections, internal connections and internal connection maintenance.

What are the discounts, and how are they determined? E-Rate discounts vary from 20 percent to 90 percent, with the biggest discounts going to communities with the greatest need as demonstrated by eligibility for the National School Lunch Program.

This is why it is imperative that parents submit their Free/Reduced Lunch Application forms. Presently, our school district is in the 50 percent to 74 percent eligibility range and qualifies for an 80 percent discount.

The funds for these discounts do not go directly to the district. Rather, the district receives a discounted price. The school pays the discounted price, and the telecommunications provider servicing the contract receives the funds from the federal government to off-set the discount.

Where do these funds come from? The dollars come from the FCC, which collects the money through an assessment of telecommunication providers known as the Universal Services Fund (previously mentioned).

Demand for the E-Rate program has grown over time and, as a result, there has been a reduction in our discounts.

Historically, E-Rate funding was capped at $2.25 billion nationwide. To date, that has been enough funding to meet full demand only one time in nearly 15 years. The current demand is estimated at $5 billion.

Because of the gap between demand and available funds, 2013 was the first time that all available funding was consumed by Priority One services - basic connectivity -leaving zero funding for Priority Two service or internal connections (which could be a LAN and/or WAN). Again, because of this, we have seen a reduction in our discounts. The pie remained the same size while the number of those sharing it increased; thus, recipients received smaller portions.

How has E-Rate helped our school district? The district's connectivity costs were reduced approximately $50,000 in this school year alone. However, we are very nervous about the future because of the single biggest obstacle threatening the E-Rate program: inadequate funding. Connectivity is crucial in this technological age to enhance our students' opportunities.

With the upcoming reauthorization of the Telecommunications Act, we are hopeful that sufficient resources will be allocated for this essential program.

Dan Fox is the Pershing County School District superintendent.