In an effort to fund high-speed Internet, schools and libraries turn to the federal E-rate program. For nearly two decades, the program has given billions of dollars in discounts to help schools and libraries upgrade and support their networks.
Yet the quest for speed is often slowed by the complex application process with many requirements and deadlines. Even worse, a significant number of schools are denied funding because they miss a deadline or fail to conform to the program’s complex rules.
As you prepare for the 2020 E-rate cycle, here are strategies that can help you reduce the risk of having your application denied.
Know key milestones
The Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), the agency that oversees the E-rate, is unforgiving about the program’s deadlines. Here are three key milestones that are all about timing:
Open a competitive bid process – On Form 470, applicants must describe the specific services and technologies they seek. By filing the form, organizations mark the start of the competitive bid process. Only when filed can applicants solicit bids from technology partners.
Wait 28 days – Schools and districts must wait 28 days before reviewing bids from providers and vendors after filing Form 470. Then, applicants must choose the most cost-effective bid. However, while price is the primary factor, the FCC allows applicants to include other considerations such as whether the product integrates with existing infrastructure.
Get signed contracts and submit Form 471 – To submit Form 471, organizations must have not only selected their partners but also have signed contracts with them. Required documentation for that form includes cost, specific products and services organizations want to buy and where they will be implemented.
Be responsive to program administrators
E-rate administrators will often reach out to applicants by phone or email if they have a question or need more information. This communication might occur during a time when school is not in session.
When the program administrators send questions, they request a response by a certain date — often 15 days from the date of their email. If you don’t respond by the date they indicate, your application will be denied. Be on the lookout for such communication, and respond in a timely manner when prompted.
There are frequent changes to E-rate rules and procedures. For instance, USAC issues a new Eligible Services List every year.
Leverage as many resources as you can to stay current. USAC offers free E-rate training sessions each year, as do most state E-rate coordinators. You can also consult these planning tools or check out this e-book to get started with your E-rate planning.
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Cliff brings 25 years of increasingly impactful technology leadership experience to his role as Sr. Director, Vertical Programs, at Spectrum Enterprise. He is responsible for strategic program management supporting Federal, State & Local Government, K-12 & Higher Education, Healthcare, and Hospitality verticals.