This is a guest blog post from Salem Kimble, the manager of social media development at TechSoup's donor partner, BetterWorld Telecom.

If you work for a nonprofit or library in California, your organization might be eligible to reduce your telecom expenses by half. Thousands of eligible organizations in California are not aware of the California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) and are missing out on this great benefit.

TechSoup donor partner BetterWorld Telecom is one of only a select few telecom providers certified and approved to provide services eligible for reimbursement through the CTF program. BetterWorld Telecom's donation program with TechSoup provides access to discounted telecommunications service. When combined with the California Teleconnect Fund discount, this offering creates an amazing opportunity for eligible nonprofits.

The California Public Utilities Committee site covering the CTF makes for a daunting read, so we've done our best here to give an informative overview: describe what the CTF is, which organizations are eligible, and how to apply. 

Overview

The California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) provides qualified organizations a 50% discount on select telecommunications and Internet access services in California. TechSoup Donation Program Partner, BetterWorld Telecom, is one of only a handful of telecom providers certified and approved to provide services eligible for reimbursement through the CTF program.

Who

Qualified organizations include California schools, community colleges, libraries, government and district-owned and operated hospitals and health clinics, and community-based organizations. (See below for more specifics). 

What

CTF provides funding for basic access services. The CTF eligible services that BetterWorld Telecom provides include:

  • Internet Access: T-1 , DSL, and Ethernet Over Copper.
  • Phone Service: Voice over IP (VoIP) and PBX service and seats, and traditional plain old telephone service (POTS) lines.
  • Note: Installation and service fees are not eligible.

(The BetterWorld Donation Program with TechSoup includes one of these CTF eligible services, VoIP Telecommunication Services, Access to Discounted rates, and Donated Phones).

History

CTF was established in 1996 by the CPUC to support universal service and is funded by California State Budget through an end-user surcharge on intrastate communications services. The CTF discount is dependent upon the appropriation of funds within the State Budget and although there are no current indications it would occur, the discount could be discontinued if funding became exhausted or the program itself was suspended.

E-Rate Discount for Schools and Libraries

In 2006, a bill was passed in connection with CTF to avoid a double discount by requiring all organizations applying for CTF that are eligible for the E-rate discount (libraries and schools) to provide the E-rate discount percentage that they already receive, or an average value if they don't already have a discount. 

If your organization is receiving an E-rate discount, you should put this percentage on your CTF application. If your organization is a school or library and does not have an E-rate discount, then you will need to apply the current statewide average (currently 72% through 6/30/12) before calculating the CTF discount. (for example, for a $100 a 72% E-rate discount leaves $28, so the 50% CTFF discount is then applied to that remaining $28).

If your organization is using services that are not eligible for E-rate, but are eligible for the California Teleconnect Fund, you can submit a CTF Eligible vs E-rate Ineligible Form.

Key Points About E-rates

  • Schools or libraries should apply for the E-rate discount as well as the CTF discount to determine their E-rate discount amount.
  • The E-rate discount applied is either 1) the statewide average (72%) or 2) whatever your submitted E-rate application is approved for.
  • The program first applies the E-rate discount to an organization's bill before applying the 50% CTF discount.
  • For example: if the organization's E-rate discount (after it submits an application) is determined to be 0%, then a 0% E-rate discount would be applied and the CTF discount would be 50% of the full cost of the organization's bill.

If you want your school or library to learn more about E-rate discounts, there are ongoing training sessions on the topic on the K12 High Speed Network and application instructions on the US Deptartment of Education site

Detailed CTF Eligibility Requirements

In order to apply for CTF, your nonprofit or library must qualify under one of the following categories:

  • California Community Colleges: California community colleges and/or districts.
  • Community Based Organizations (CBOs): Tax exempt organizations offering health care, job training, job placement, educational instruction, or operating a community technology program which provides access and training in a local community that has limited or no access to the Internet. Also, CBOs or a nonprofit CBO providing 2-1-1 information and referral services. (A "tax exempt organization" in this instance is an organization described in Section 501(c)(3) or 501(d) of the Internal Revenue Code, Title 26 of the United States Code.)
  • Hospital and Health Clinics: All hospitals and health clinics owned and operated by county, municipal government, or hospital districts.
  • Libraries: Libraries that are eligible for participation in state-based funding under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Eligibility for libraries is defined in Act 20 USCA Sec. 9122 (2 and 3), but does not have to be certified under LSTA for CTF participation.
  • Public or Nonprofit Schools: Public schools, nonprofit schools, and religious schools that are incorporated as a nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation or as a nonprofit Religious Corporation providing elementary or secondary education (grades K-12). Qualified schools may not have endowments of more than $50 million.

How to Apply

  1.  Apply for the CTF program (be sure to use original signature, as copies and faxes are not accepted) using the application on the California Teleconnect Fund site.
  2. Send application to:
    CPUC, Telecommunications Division 
    Attention: California Teleconnect Fund
    505 Van Ness Avenue, Third Floor
    San Francisco, CA 94102
  3. Submit Approval Letter from CPUC to BetterWorld Telecom or an alternative service provider along with the appropriate discount request form.
    (You may submit request form while approval is pending). For BetterWorld customers, more details on these steps are on the CTF page on the BetterWorld Telecom website.

That's it! Although there are some forms involved and verification materials necessary to receive the CTF discount, the benefits of signing up if you are eligible could really make a bottom line difference for your organization. Check out the California Teleconnect Fund page on our website or learn more about BetterWorld Telecom's donation programs to access discounted telecommunications services for your organization!

Salem Kimble is the manager of social media development at TechSoup's donor partner, BetterWorld Telecom.