Welcome back to our series about Erate, which is a technology program for schools and libraries. If you are still interested, that is a good sign. The information can be a bit dry at times, but stick with us because the payoff can be great!
If you need a refresher on the previous step, the needs assessment, check out our article here.
Filling Out the Form 470
You have completed your needs assessment and know exactly how many switches, access points and Internet bandwidth speed you will need for next year. It is time to submit your Form 470, which lets potential vendors know what you are requesting so that vendors can submit a bid to be considered. For large scale projects with multiple layers of complexities it is suggested that schools release an RFP to describe your services. E-rate program rules do not require applicants to issue an RFP, but a Form 470 is required if you do release an RFP.
Try to be as specific as possible when adding detail to the online Form 470 so that vendors can provide relevant bids. You want to be able to compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges when the bids are received. Schools can put their preferred make and model of equipment, but you have to add the words “Or equivalent” in the narrative section. This helps the bidding process to be open and fair to any company that has a similar product that wants to submit a quote.
Use some type of tool to log each bid received. A spreadsheet is fine. Be sure to include the vendor name, SPIN, cost date the bid was received, and services/equipment offered. Next use a scoring matrix to score each bid. A spreadsheet is fine here too. Use a standardized system to with specific criteria to score each bid such as:
- Service provider experience
- Local or in-state vendor
Logging and scoring bids is crucial to receiving and keeping your Erate funds. It is suggested that you create a process and follow it for every bid received and every year that you apply for Erate funds. During the application review process, and future audits it is common for Erate to ask for bidding documentation such as the bid log, scoring matrix as well as the actual bids.
Some important Erate rules to consider:
- If you do not have a service or piece of equipment listed in your Form 470, the school cannot add it in the next step or be reimbursed for the missing product or service. Be precise with the Form 470
- There is a 28 day minimum waiting period from the time a Form 470 is filed and a vendor can be chosen
- Pricing has to be the highest weighted factor in selecting a vendor. That does not mean that the vendor chosen always has the lowest costs for equipment and services. It does mean that pricing has to have more points available than the other criteria.
- According to the Schools and Libraries (Erate) website, open and fair bidding includes:
- All bidders must be treated the same.
- No bidder can have advance knowledge of the project information.
- There are no secrets in the process – such as information shared with one bidder but not with others – and that all bidders know what is required of them.
- With limited exceptions, service providers and potential service providers cannot give gifts to applicants.
- In addition, the value of free services (e.g., price reductions, promotional offers, free products) generally must be deducted from the pre-discount cost of funding requests.
The overall intent of the 470 and open bidding process is to provide a fair process for vendors to have an opportunity to gain new business, and for schools to obtain the equipment and Internet services at the lowest possible cost. This can be frustrating, so hang in there and contact us for help!
P.S. Make sure you have a lot of virtual space available to save the bids, logs and scoring spreadsheets. Erate requires that each document be stored for ten years!