The E-Rate application process may not be as simple as 1-2-3, but we are here to help. Have you ever wondered what the steps are exactly in the E-Rate application process? As the filing window draws near, we thought that we would give you an overview of the E-Rate program with the 10 steps for a successful E-Rate Application:
E-Rate Application Process Steps
- Get Access to EPC (E-Rate Productivity Center)
Before any billed entity files any applications with the Schools and Libraries Program, they must start with the E-Rate Productivity Center (EPC). EPC is the main portal where all E-Rate forms and applications are filed. Before you can begin to file for E-Rate, you must register your school or library in the EPC system.
- Determine what Products and Services you Need
Once set up in EPC, you will want to determine what products and services you want to apply for. There are 2 different categories of services, Category 1 (internet Access/WAN Services) and Category 2 (Network Equipment, Basic Maintenance of Network Equipment and Managed Internal Broadband Services – MIBS). You will want to make these determinations before the applicant files any forms and, if possible, before the application window opens. Some years you may need to apply for all services and some years you may only want to apply for certain services. The E-Rate funding year runs from July 1 to June 30th. If you wish to receive E-Rate for funding year 2021/2022, you would be applying NOW for what you need for the E-Rate year starting July 1, 2021.
- Establish your Vendor Selection Criteria
Before you can file for E-Rate, you must establish your vendor selection criteria. These are the criteria you are going to use to evaluate all the bids that you receive. To receive E-Rate discounts, receive services, and be in compliance with E-Rate rules, be sure to establish your vendor selection criteria prior to submitting your FCC Form 470. Once you determine your services and establish your Vendor Selection Criteria, you can start the E-Rate application process.
- File your FCC Form 470
The FCC Form 470 is the first application in the process, and it is the Description of Services Requested and Certification Form. The FCC Form 470 is the application that you file to let potential vendors know what services you are looking for. The FCC Form 470 must be posted with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) and the billed entity must wait at least 28 days before selecting any vendors or signing any contracts. This is the mandatory waiting period during which you must allow all potential vendors to bid. As you wait 28 days (minimum), be sure that you are in compliance with the rules and regulations that govern the E-Rate program in running an open and fair competitive bid process.
- Review your Bids and Select Your Vendors
Once you filed your FCC Form 470, wait your 28 days, and conduct an open and fair competitive bid process, you are now free to select your vendor and sign contracts. You must take all eligible bids and weigh them against your vendor selection criteria to select the most cost-effective vendor. Remember, you do not need to pick the cheapest vendor but the most cost effective one.
- File your FCC Form 471
The FCC Form 471 application is the Description of Services Ordered and Certification Form. It is the application that is submitted to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) that has the funding requests for eligible services. The FCC Form 471 is the form that must be filed in order for a billed entity to receive services, obtain E-Rate discounts, and get the funding for internet services, Internal Connections, Managed Internal Broadband Services, or Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections.
- Review and Approval
USAC gets upwards of 40,000 applications every year, and they are tasked with reviewing and approving the E-Rate applications that are submitted. Through the Program Integrity Assurance review process, determinations are made that directly affect the Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL), which details what was funded. Applications that are filed during the application window undergo the Program Integrity Assurance review process, but can also get pulled for special compliance reviews, cost effective reviews, or other types of audits. USAC also reserves the right to audit your applications for up to 10 years from the last date to receive services. As a result, be sure that you have a solid document retention policy and procedures that are sustainable. The Schools and Libraries Program has required the return of program funds if rules and procedures are not properly followed.
- Funding Commitment Decision Letter and the Children Internet Protection Act
After your application is reviewed and you receive a Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL), you are almost ready to receive E-rate discounts and receive services. Once you get your FCDL, you must file an FCC Form 486. This form certifies that the billed entity is in compliance with the Children Internet Protection Act. At this point, once the funding year begins, you are ready to have your services start, ready to receive products/services, and ready to begin the invoicing process.
- Invoicing Process
You have two invoicing options, BEAR or SPI:
Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) – With the BEAR option, you pay your bills in full, as if E-Rate never existed, and then complete the invoicing process directly with USAC to receive your reimbursement for the funding that was approved on your funding requests.
Service Provider Invoice (SPI) – With the SPI option, you work with service providers to set-up your accounts to receive direct discounts on your bills. The billed entity will need to pay the non-discounted portion of the bill, and the invoicing process will be completed on the service provider side.
- Start All Over Again
Once you get here it is time to start the process over again for the next funding year.
Now, Let’s Get Started!
Undoubtedly, the process can seem daunting – and that is where E-Rate Advantage comes into play. E-Rate Advantage is a full service E-Rate consulting company. We believe that success with the E-Rate application process begins with thoughtful planning before the first application is filed. Please contact us today for a no-obligation consultation as the first step to getting you on your way through the E-Rate application process!