The E-rate program has played, and continues to play, a major role in the development and support of telecommunications, Internet access, and other technology services for the K-12 educational community. As many technology directors and business managers know, E-rate is a valuable — and, in many cases, mission critical — source of technology funding. It’s a wonderful source of funding to help offset many of the costs related to scaling your infrastructure, but there are lots of deadlines and pitfalls that can derail a school’s application.
Look closely at your next cell phone or Internet bill. Tucked under monthly plan charges, taxes, and payments received is an often overlook line item titled “Federal Universal Service Fee.” This rarely noticed charge helps fund a variety of programs that enable families, libraries, and schools to stay connected.
One of those programs is the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, better known at E-rate.
E-rate helps schools and libraries get affordable Internet access by discounting the cost of service based on the school’s location – urban or rural – and the percentage of low-income students served.
Discounts can range from 20 to 90 percent of eligible costs – routers, firewalls, wireless access point, and Internet service fees, among other things – but the program’s funding is capped at $2.4 billion annually. For more detailed information, keep reading this post and check out the USAC website.
E-Rate is a wonderful source of funding to help offset many of the costs related to scaling your infrastructure, but there are lots of deadlines and pitfalls that can derail a school’s application.
To us Service providers, we affectionately refer to the time between October and April as E-Rate Season. During these six months, schools and service providers go through the forms and steps referenced at the top of this post to request funding to bring their voice and data networks into the 21st century. Here are the main steps and a rough timeline of the process:
1) Early fall – Schools complete the Form 470, and potentially build an RFP as well, to let potential registered service providers know what types of eligible products and services they need.
2) After Form 470 is posted – Service providers review the Form 470 and any applicable RFP documents and submit bids during the required 28-day (minimum) bidding period. Because of this 28-day window, in 2016, the last day you can post a Form 470 is 4/1/2016.
3) 28+ days after Form 470 is posted – The school reviews all the bids received, fills out a bid selection matrix, or other tool to score the bids, and picks winning service providers for each type of service that was requested.
4) Starting mid-January or February and ending late March or April – Once the school has selected the winning service providers and obtained signed contracts from them, they complete and submit Form 471’s to inform USAC of their decisions. USAC doesn’t typically publish firm dates for the opening and closing of the Form 471 Filing Window until January.
5) Ongoing – After this there is still plenty of work to do, but it is largely reactive work responding to USAC audit questions and providing clarifying information for the USAC auditors who carefully pick apart each request to make sure that federal funds are being allocated fairly.
6) After July 1st – The new E-Rate funding year begins, which means you can turn up the new services you have ordered and begin implementing the new technology you bid out. Beware though that the USAC review process sometimes take a while (particularly for Category 2 services). If you haven’t received final funding approval from USAC by July 1st, you may want to hold off on any projects until you receive it.
ETS is an E-Rate service provider and we encourage you to apply for funding. It’s a wonderful source of funding to help offset many of the costs related to scaling your infrastructure.