In an increasingly digitally connected world, it’s important that the organizations at the root of civic participation, education, and individual empowerment are able to access the technologies available. As such, the E-Rate program, the common name for the Universal Service Schools and Libraries Program, provides crucial federal funding that was set up to provide schools and libraries with internet services, network infrastructure, and other telecom services.
Applying for the E-Rate program can be a long process, and in order to fill in the paperwork correctly, thoroughly, and with the greatest chance of success, we’ve pulled together our tips on completing the 6 steps of your E-Rate application this year.
Step 1 – Start the competitive bidding process with Form 470
In order to begin the process, you must fill in Form 470. In this form, you must explain and justify the specific technologies and services required for your unique situation. Once you have filed your Form 470, then you can start soliciting bids.
Step 2 – Wait, then select service providers
After submitting Form 470, you must wait 28 days before reviewing the bids that you have received. The bids will be from various service providers for the specific technologies and services you applied for. The key consideration when choosing a bid is cost-effectiveness. Of course, the FCC does allow other factors to be taken into account, and these might include personnel qualifications, management capability, how the product integrates into your existing infrastructure, and how close the vendor might be to your site.
Step 3 – Sign contracts and submit Form 471
Once you’ve selected the winning bid from your chosen service provider, you must have signed contracts in place to submit Form 471. This form asks you to detail the precise cost for the services and technology you’ll use the funding for, along with which selected vendors you will hire, and where they will deploy their technologies and services.
Step 4 – Stay on the ball during the review process
The USAC now reviews all applications for the E-Rate program through a process called Program Integrity Assurance. This is to ensure fraud is caught ahead of time, and that the program is giving funding to the most suitable candidates. The USAC might raise additional questions or find problems in your application, such as unclear answers or missing documentation. If you are asked for this additional information, you must respond within 15 days to remain eligible for the funding, unless more time is requested.
Step 5 – Confirm final decisions with Form 486
After the review process, the USAC issues funding commitment decision letters to the schools and libraries it decides to award funding. If you are successful in your project application, you must then submit Form 486 to let the USAC know that you are going ahead with the services and that the payments can begin. The form asks you to confirm the start date of services and proof of compliance with the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), if relevant.
Step 6 – Invoice
There are two options for invoicing. After the USAC processes your Form 486, your chosen service providers can start invoicing the USAC for the agreed segment of their bill, and you pay your discounted costs directly to them. The other option is to pay the service providers directly and then get the reimbursement in full from the USAC. In this second case, you must file Form 498, which details your banking information, and then Form 472, also known as Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR), to get paid back.
The process of applying for the E-Rate program may seem cumbersome – and it is – but the benefits of discounted technology and internet services for students and library users can far outweigh the admin cost of filling out the forms. If you are prepared ahead of time and follow our steps, the process should feel smoother and less intimidating each year.