7 Tips to Navigating E-rate
After working through multiple E-rate seasons, we at 2NDGEAR, understand that participating in your first E-rate season can be overwhelming. We thought it would be helpful to highlight a few tips and tricks to make the process more manageable.
Tip 1: Know Important E-rate Applicant Dates
FY2018 = July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018
470 (RFP posting) request for proposal of services
471 Filing for funding: January to April
Tip 2: Understand Eligibility Requirements
Each year, before the FCC Form 471 application filing window opens, the FCC releases an Eligible Services List (ESL) for the upcoming funding year. It is typically released between September to November. This list contains a description of the products and services that will be eligible for discounts, along with additional helpful information such as eligibility conditions for each category of service for each specified funding year. Review the list before posting a Form 470.
Remember that some products such as firewalls may have bundled products in their solutions which may not be 100% eligible. This is important to have these products outlined with their percentage of eligibility when you create your 470 request.
The ESL consists of 5 different service types falling under two categories. Category One is funded first and Category Two is funded as funds are available beginning with the highest level of poverty applicants.
- Category One
- Data Transmission Services and Internet Access
- Voice Services
- Category Two
- Internal Connections
- Managed Internal Broadband Services
- Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections
Tip 3: Understand How to File and Get Started
To apply for E-rate Program funding you will need access to your organization’s account in the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC), the online portal for creating and managing your application, and communicating with USAC.
If your school/library has never applied for E-rate Program funding, call USAC at (888) 203-8100 to set up an organization-level account. Account administrators can activate their account by visiting the EPC login page and selecting “reset your password”. Once they’re logged in, they can add new users, or assign a new person to be the account administrator.
Tip 4: Apply as Early as Possible
Opening the competitive bidding process as an applicant can be daunting but remove the complexity by starting early. Be sure to research solutions early in the applicant year. In fact you are allowed as an applicant to demo equipment before you file a 470. This is a long-term decision that needs a solid future-proofed solution. Side-by-side comparisons in the bidding process to evaluate the solutions ensure you truly find the right technology fit for your organization.
It is important to file your Form 470 early in the program season. Once a vendor is chosen, and just as important, is to file your Form 471, which is the applicants request for funding of the project. The Form 471 names the vendor (Service Provider) you are rewarding the contract for services to. This process of attaining funding through evaluation of funds requested can be a time consuming and lengthy between you the applicant and the PIA reviewer (program integrity assurance). Often the request for funding or 471 filing is handled by the USAC organization with a “first in = first out” policy. If you want your installation of services to begin prior to the start of the new school year and over the summer months, you need to file early.
Tip 5: Know your School/Library Budget
Discounts are based on the category of service requested, the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the population served and the level of participation of students in the “free and reduced lunch” program.
- School districts derive their discount, for purposes of determining their level of poverty, from the total percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in the school district.
- Libraries derive their discount, for purposes of determining their level of poverty, from the NSLP eligibility percentage of the public-school district in which the main branch of the library is located.
- Eligibility for the additional rural discount is determined at the school district or library system level. If more than 50 percent of the schools in a school district or libraries in a library system are considered rural, the district or system is eligible for the rural discount. Note that non-instructional facilities (NIFs) are not included in this percentage calculation.
- Consortia and statewide applicants continue to use the simple average of the discounts of the members of the consortium or statewide application.
Tip 6: Understand the Competitive Bidding Process
The competitive bidding process must be open and fair. “Open” means there are no secrets in the process – such as information shared with one bidder but not with others – and that all bidders know what is required of them. “Fair” means that all bidders are treated the same and that no bidder has advance knowledge of the project information.
- All bidders must be treated the same.
- No bidder can have advance knowledge of the project information.
- There are no secrets in the process – such as information shared with one bidder but not with others – and that all bidders know what is required of them.
- With limited exceptions, service providers and potential service providers cannot give gifts to applicants.
- In addition, the value of free services (e.g., price reductions, promotional offers, free products) must generally be deducted from the pre-discount cost of funding requests.
Tip 7: Partner with a Knowledgeable E-rate Service Provider
Don’t let the frustrations or fears in the complexity of the E-rate Program deter you from providing your organization with the funding it deserves to support the technology investments for successful e-learning environments. Do your due diligence on the front end and make a well evaluated and researched decision for finding the best solutions to meet your organization’s needs. More importantly, find a solutions provider that will understand the program and has dedicated resources to ensure compliance and support are provided from RFP to Funded.
2NDGEAR has been an E-rate Service Provider (SPIN 143044100) since 2015. We have a dedicated staff that supports our clients (applicants) throughout all steps of the E-rate Program season. We hope that those simple tips help you get ready for your participation in the next E-rate season. If you have any questions or are in the need of an experienced E-rate Service Provider, reach out to govcontracts@2NDGEAR.com.