Don’t Go it Alone: What You Need to Know About Participating in an E-rate Consortium
The comforting thing to understand was that no matter how difficult it may have appeared… everyone had to do it. Most everyone you knew had to go through the same process, and if they could do it, surely you could too.
With E-rate, it can feel just as confusing and overwhelming. But like taxes, you aren’t alone. There are over 13,000 school districts in the US and many of them are going through the same application process as you are. The even better part… E-rate offers school districts the option to team up and apply for funding together. When school districts do this, they form what is called a ‘Consortium’ (plural: Consortia).
What is an E-rate Consortium? The USAC defines them as, “A group of E-rate eligible entities that seeks competitive bids or E-rate funding for eligible services on behalf of its members. Schools and/or libraries can form consortia for the purposes of the Schools and Libraries (E-rate) Program to aggregate demand in order to lower prices and promote more efficient use of shared facilities.”
Participating in an E-rate consortium has many benefits to the school districts involved. Here is a highlight of a few of these top benefits:
1.) Purchasing Power = Lower Prices
By purchasing together, school districts aggregate their demand and essentially offer to buy in bulk. This guarantees a higher purchase for vendors, and in turn, lowers prices on goods and services.
2.) Prioritized Review
In July 2014, the FCC adopted the E-rate Modernization Order. Many of the changes brought forth by the order were aimed at encouraging school districts to participate in consortia. One of the ways it did this was to address complaints schools had made about the time it took to process consortium applications. The Order now directs USAC to prioritize review of E-rate applications from state and regional consortia applications. Not only are consortia likely to get you lower prices, but their application process is smoother and faster.
3.) Simplified Process
All consortia choose a single participant to act as the Lead Member. The Lead is given certain responsibilities, such as ensuring that necessary certifications are made and for responding to USAC inquiries on behalf of consortium members. Consortium participants can, but are not required, to allow the Lead Member to actually make purchases on consortium members’ behalf. Even if your Lead doesn’t make your purchases for you, they do handle much of the paperwork you would otherwise be responsible for. So unless you are the Lead Member yourself, participating in a consortium drastically simplifies your own process during both the pre and post-commitment processes.
Of course, it is an option for you to begin a brand new consortium on your own. But the easier route is to join a pre-existing one. All consortia are different, and before you join one, make sure to do your research. Here are some of the most important questions you should be asking.
A. How big is it?
- How many members does the consortium have? With size comes higher purchasing power and higher authority. Contact the other school districts in the consortium and ask them about their experience.
B. How visible is it?
- What programs does the consortium run to raise awareness of their organization? You want to know that vendors are familiar with the consortium, so that you know they are getting the best bids. It is a very good sign to see that the consortium has longstanding relationships with the best vendors in your state.
C. How much does it cost?
- Some consortia are free to join, but most charge an annual fee. Find out how much it costs, and make sure you’re able to save at least as much money as it will cost you to join.
D. What other services does it offer?
- Aside from being the middleman between you and the vendors you are looking for, many consortia offer members more services that can make your life easier. For instance, it may be able to offer your school training, personalized support, and even engineering expertise to help your school plan its telecommunications needs and ensure you are taking the most cost-effective route.
Participating in these consortia can be a great option for any E-rate eligible school district. With a little bit of research and careful consideration, the benefits can be great and be a key part of building your overall funding strategy.
We hope these are helpful tips about E-rate Consortia and help prepare you for your participation in.
2NDGEAR has been an E-rate Service Provider (SPIN 143044100) since 2015.