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USAC, the E-Rate program’s administrator, defended its vetting of Lakewood’s E-Rate applications in a statement to the Forward. “We review all applications under procedures approved by the FCC and based on rules and legislation governing the program,” USAC spokesman Eric Iversen said. “Commitments and disbursements result from this review, which is designed to ensure compliance with requirements for program participation.”
One possible explanation for Lakewood’s success in obtaining E-Rate subsidies could be its unique situation as a town with large numbers of poor students in private schools. That means that the private schools qualify for high-cost items at high levels of reimbursement usually available only to public school districts. That, in turn, means that dozens of independent institutions in the town are constructing their own pricey network infrastructures with E-Rate funds. None can take advantage of the economies of scale achieved by large school districts.
“The preponderance of high-discount private schools is really, really unusual,” said Dan Riordan, president of On-Tech Consulting, a New Jersey-based consulting firm that works with schools and libraries on E-Rate applications, of Lakewood’s high rates of subsidy. “It’s expensive to run a bunch of small networks.”
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis