Erate Steps – Part II: Selecting a Service Provider and Discounts
Welcome back 😀 We continue our Erate series with Steps 3 & 4. After conducting the needs assessment and going through the competitive bidding process, it’s time to select a service provider and learn how to apply discounts.
Selecting a Service Provider
The Erate Form 471 is the place where the school finally gets to request services and equipment. As a reminder, the following steps must be completed before selecting the service provider (s) and submitting the Form 471. These include:
- Conduct a needs assessment
- File the form 470
- Be sure to log and score every bid received.
Make sure the school has an entity number and an updated student count in the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC). Registration in the EPC is required and is a multi-step process.
As part of the competitive bidding process, don’t forget that the FCC Form 470 and your RFP (If created) must be publicly available for 28 days. Once the competitive bidding process is closed, received bids are evaluated and the highest scoring bid is chosen. Several factors are considered in this process, pricing for the eligible products and services is the key factor in the evaluation. Documenting the process will allow you to physically see which bid is best and provide the necessary documentation to the service provider. Per USAC (2023), you can receive services under 2 methods:
- Under tariff or on a month-to-month basis. Services such as basic telephone service or internet access may not require a contract. However, you must post an FCC Form 470 and open a competitive bidding process for these services each year.
- Under a contract. Tariffed or month-to-month services provided under a contract are considered to be contracted services. Eligible products and the upkeep of eligible products are generally provided under a contract. If you post an FCC Form 470 and sign a multi-year contract resulting from that posting, you do not have to post an FCC Form 470 or open a competitive bidding process again for the term of that contract.
Communicate with the service provider to obtain signatures after the 28-day mandatory waiting period. The contract must be uploaded into the EPC and referenced in Form 471. A contract is required to be uploaded for equipment and services unless the Internet service is on a month-to-month basis without a contract. The Form 471 requires information such as the monthly or overall cost of services/equipment, applicant and service provider identification numbers (BEN and SPIN), and each piece of equipment needs to be input separately with the make/model information.
An important distinction is that separate Form 471s are required for Category 1 and Category 2. What do categories have to do with this? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Category 1 is for Internet services. This can be delivered via coax, fiber, DSL, or several other transmission methods. There is no budget or ceiling for Internet services. New in 2023 is the eligibility for wifi for buses. This will provide an opportunity for students to do online learning or homework on the way to and from school.
Category 2 This is for equipment and ongoing maintenance services of Erate-eligible equipment. There is a specific budget for this category. As of this writing, schools receive $167 per student or $25,000, whichever is higher, over five years to spend on equipment and maintenance. Choose your equipment and services carefully to stretch your budget over the five years. If your student count increases, the budget can increase once updated in the EPC.
The prep work leading up to filling in Form 471 can take months, and the forms themselves can take several hours to complete online, depending on the amount of services and equipment being requested. Pace yourself, and reward yourself with more beach yoga, chocolate, or whatever keeps you going.
That’s a lot of information. Take a deep breath!
Note: The 2024 Erate Form 471 deadline is March 27, 2024. This is a short time frame to do a lot of work. Pace yourself for the multiple steps, rules, and procedures.
Submitting the FCC Form 471
Once you have chosen your service provider(s) and signed a contract (if applicable), you can file an FCC Form 471 to apply for discounts as soon as the FCC Form 471 application filing window opens. Ensure your profile information is current before the filing window opens because it will be locked during the application process. Once you set up your profile, the system populates certain information from your profile like your entity numbers, FCC FRN, and student counts.
Per the USAC (2023), for each funding request, you must also provide the following:
- A detailed description of services or equipment
- Specific information on each service, set of services, or equipment you are requesting:
- Service provider name and Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN), also known as the service provider’s 498 ID
- Cost of the service or the equipment
- Contract number and other contract details (if there is a contract)
- Start and end dates of service
The FCC Form 471 must be certified on or before the close of the application filing window. After the certified FCC Form 471 is received, the USAC issues an acknowledgment letter to both the applicant and the service provider for two reasons: 1) as acknowledgment and 2) to correct mistakes. After a thorough review, USAC issues a Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) to both the applicant and the service provider.
Still have questions about the process? Not sure of which form to use or what information is required? Grant Consulting Services LLC has helped file hundreds of Form 471’s for schools. Contact us for more information about how we can help you. Now that we are more than halfway through the Erate process, stay tuned for Part III where we discuss the application review, starting services, and paying for services.
Erate: Applying for Discounts. (2023). Retrieved from https://www.usac.org/e-rate/applicant-process/applying-for-discounts/