Everything you need to be safe and cozy as you travel into the next E-rate funding year.
GUEST COLUMN | by Cathy Cruzan
The 2016 E-rate Filing Window will open on Wednesday, Feb. 3, which means many applicants are scrambling to put in place all the pieces they need. To ease the process for schools and districts at this challenging time of year, I’ve compiled a short list of basic items to check off before the window opens:
- Set up your E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) profile. This is the first year Forms 470 and Forms 471 will be filed through EPC, so every applicant needs to be in the system. Applicants who have not received information about establishing their organization’s account administrator should contact USAC’s Client Service Bureau at 888-203-8100.
By utilizing this checklist and allowing enough time to receive all the necessary approvals, applicants will have a healthy head start when the filing window opens.
- While USAC pre-populates EPC with information, most applicants find that corrections are needed. Log into EPC and click “Manage Organization” to review pre-populated information. School districts or library systems will also need to check their related entities to make sure every location is listed. When checking locations, be aware that:
a. Many applicants find Non-Instructional Facility (NIF) locations are not included. Check that all names and addresses are correct. If any schools have closed or new ones have opened, make those corrections as well. In prior years, annexes had their own Billed Entity Number (BEN) and were reported separately. This year, the annex needs to be associated with the correct school and use the “Manage Annex” feature in EPC.
b. USAC has populated enrollment and National School Lunch Program numbers using information found on 2015 Forms 471. This information needs to be updated for each school location for 2016. Be aware that there is no way to update all of this information at one time. Applicants will need to open and update each school location individually.
The information found under “manage organization” will be used to calculate the discount rate(s) for 2016 and tell USAC where services will be delivered. This information replaces the Block 4 on prior versions of the Form 471.
- The number of 2016 Forms 470 filed in EPC is lagging behind where it typically is this time of year. If applicants need to procure services and file a Form 470, it is advisable to start the process as soon as possible. In addition, if applicants are releasing an RFP or other procurement document in association with Form 470, it must be uploaded as an attachment to Form 470. The rules governing the 28-day competitive bidding period remain unchanged.
- As part of the Form 471 in EPC, applicants will be answering questions about the connectivity to and between locations. The questions then become part of the profile information and should be available when the filing window opens. Unlike last year, this information will be gathered at the individual site level. For each school location, applicants need to provide upload and download speeds, as well as answers to questions about how Internet service is delivered. In addition, schools will be asked what the predominant connection type is for that location, if the Wi-Fi quality is sufficient, and what are the biggest barriers to having a robust internal network. Preparing answers now will save time when the window opens and the questions are available.
- Applicants will need time to negotiate or get contracts approved by their governing boards, so leaving enough time for this step is crucial. The filing window is set to close at 11:59 EDT on Friday, April 29, 2016. Applicants should set a target Form 471 filing date that is comfortably prior to this deadline, and then work back to determine which board meeting(s) in which they can submit agenda items. Also consider how much time it takes to select a provider, as well as the required 28 day bidding period after the 470 is posted. For many applicants, this means that the procurement process needs to start now to avoid missing out on E-rate discounts.
It takes a lot of planning to successfully apply for E-rate funds. By utilizing this checklist and allowing enough time to receive all the necessary approvals, applicants will have a healthy head start when the filing window opens.
Cathy Cruzan is president of Funds for Learning, a leading firm that specializes in helping schools and libraries across the U.S. receive federal E-rate funding for Internet access. Follow her @FFL