The Universal Service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as the E-rate Program, was created to provide discounts to eligible schools and libraries for telecom services, internet access, and internal network infrastructure. The program is funded through the Universal Service Fund and is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
E-Rate can provide essential services and infrastructure that would normally be unobtainable for some organizations located in poor areas. The potential success that E-Rate can provide can require considerable time and effort of applicants. The elongated process requires patience and paperwork. Your organization should have an overall E-Rate strategy and an appointed team to manage and complete the process. For so many educational organizations though, the hard work is more than worth it in the end.
The E-Rate process is broken down into six successive steps. Attention to detail is essential towards the completion of each step. An overview of the complete progression is detailed below.
The E-Rate funding process begins with the filing of Form 470 that serves as the procurement vehicle for the program. It should be filed whenever procurement for E-Rate eligible services is initiated throughout the year. Form 470 can also be accompanied by a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP serves as a formal bidding document that describes the project and requested services in sufficient detail so that potential bidders can fully understand the scope, requirements, and details of the project. Applicants must wait at least 28 days from the date the FCC Form 470 is certified before closing the competitive bidding process.
It is essential that the Form 470 bidding process be open and fair to all potential bidders. The FCC rules concerning this bidding process specify that:
More information on Step 1 competitive bidding process can be found here.
Once the competitive bidding process has been closed, it will be time to evaluate the received bids and select a winning one. Applicants may consider multiple factors during the evaluation process. The use of a matrix highly recommended. Possible factors can include:
More information on the Step 2 Service Provider Selection process can be found here.
With the winning proposal selected, it is time to fill out FCC Form 471. This form must be filed within a specific application window and these filing dates are published in advance on the SLD website. Basically, this form specifies the exact dollar amount being applied for and the subsequent services being funded. If you are filing for Internal Connections of Maintenance in addition to Telecommunications Services/Internet Access, then a separate Form 471 must be filed for each group. Note that all building within your campus that are involved in the project must have an entity number that is assigned by the USAC. If you do not have corresponding entity numbers, you must contact the USAC.
More information on the Step 3 Discount Application process can be found here.
All applications must undergo an initial and final review. The review process is important to help eliminate fraud or waste in order to protect the integrity of the program. The USAC reviews all submitted forms for completeness and accuracy and may issue additional questions concerning your bid for topics such as:
In order to discourage fraud and abuse, extra scrutiny can be applied to applications. Those applicants who receive follow-up questions have 15 days to respond unless more time is requested. Applicants may also be required to provide documentation concerning the competitive bidding and service provider selection processes. The USAC may also request documented proof that the applicant has the ability to pay the non-discount portion of the requested service not reimbursed by the USAC.
Once the review process has been completed, the USAC will issue a Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) concerning the decision on a funding request. Should an applicant disagree with any aspect of the FCDL, the applicant can file an appeal to the USAC or FCC within 60 days. Note that the backlog of appeals can be quite substantial.
More information on the Step 4 Application Review process can be found here.
After the receipt of your Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL), you can allow the service provider to begin the prescribed services. Once the services begin, you must file FCC Form 486 Notification Letter to inform the USAC that the approved services have been started and invoicing can begin. Form 486 also confirms that you are in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) if you are receiving services besides that of telecommunications. FCC Form 486 must be certified no later than 120 days after the Service Start Date or 120 days after the date of the FCDL, whichever is later. Note that filing beyond the prescribed window can result in a reduction in funding. During this time, you should determine which party (you the applicant or your service provider) will invoice the USAC for the discounted amount assigned to the cost of services.
More information on Step 5 competitive bidding process can be found here.
Once the USAC processes your FCC Form 486, you or your service provider can begin invoicing the USAC for the discount share assigned to the approved eligible services. After USAC has processed your FCC Form 486, you or your service provider can begin the process of invoicing USAC for the discount share of the approved eligible services. There are two ways to do this:
Applicants file FCC Form 472, the Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form if they have paid the service provider in full for the services and want to be reimbursed for the discount amount.
Service providers file FCC Form 474, the Service Provider Invoice (SPI) Form if they have provided discounted bills to their customer and want to be reimbursed for the discount amount.
More information on Step 6 invoicing process can be found here.
Once funding is granted you then need to choose a suitable vendor for your content filtering. It's important to ensure the vendor offers an E-Rate eligible solution.