E-rate 101: Your complete guide to Schools and Libraries Program funding

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At first glance, the application process for E-rate funding can appear overwhelming. The common misconception is that it requires a lot of paperwork. You also might not even think you’re eligible for the support.

But did you know this government-funded program allows you to obtain telecommunication and networking components at a discount rate with a grant you don’t have to pay back? The benefits of applying for E-rate funding far outweigh any underlying doubts you may have about the application process.

And so, to help you navigate the rules and regulations put forth in the application process, we’ve created this step-by-step guide to make applying for E-rate funding as smooth as possible.

What is E-rate funding?

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) E-rate program, more formally known as the “Schools and Libraries Program,” offers schools and libraries the opportunity to receive affordable telecommunications and internet access.

The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), chosen by the FCC to administer the program, uses the Universal Service Fund (USF) to provide discounts ranging from 20 to 90 percent to communities across the country that might not normally be able to afford telecommunication and networking services or components.

Before you begin the application process, you first need to make certain you qualify to receive support.

Confirm your E-rate eligibility status

To be eligible for E-rate support, schools and libraries must meet certain statutory conditions.

In order to qualify, schools – elementary and secondary – must meet the legal definition of elementary and secondary schools as laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001:

  1. Elementary school – non-profit institutional day or residential school that provides elementary education as decided under the law. Includes public elementary charter schools.
  2. Secondary school – non-profit institutional day or residential school that provides secondary education as decided under the law. Cannot offer education past 12th grade. Includes public secondary charter schools.

Libraries need to meet the definition outlined in the Library Services and Technology Act of 1996. This includes:

  1. Public library
  2. Public elementary school or secondary school library
  3. Academic library
  4. Research library
  5. Private library – state must determine it fits the definition

Let’s say you meet the necessary requirements to receive E-rate funding. The next step is to examine the available services.

What services are available through E-rate?

The E-rate program’s Eligible Services List (ESL) is broken down into Category One and Category Two. Within these two categories are five distinct forms of services.

Category One consists of data transmission services and internet access, as well as voice services. Category Two includes internal connections, managed internal broadband services, and the basic maintenance of internal connections.

Once you determine which products and services best fit your needs, then it’s time to use the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC), the account and application management portal, to fill out the proper forms.

Complete FCC Form 470 to open competitive bidding process

FCC Form 470 is the Description of Services Requested and Certification Form, which is used to open the competitive bidding process. By completing and certifying this form, you officially notify services providers that you’re seeking the products and services on the form. You can also include a request for proposal (RFP) to provide more details.

Before selecting a service provider, each differentiated by its own Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN), you must wait at least 28 days after the FCC Form 470 is certified in the EPC. This will allow you enough time to consider all the bids.

It makes sense to choose a service provider that offers you the most cost-effective price. However, don’t overlook the importance of working with a service provider that offers additional added value, including enhanced customer support and relationships with networking partners that focus on E-rate. You want a service provider that’s a trusted partner.

File FCC Form 471 to request funding

After selecting a service provider, you submit the FCC Form 471, Services Ordered and Certification Form, requesting funding from USAC.

It’s really important you pay attention to the filing window timeline, which opens in the beginning of September and usually runs through either March or April. You do not want to wait until the last minute to file.

The funding window runs from July 1 to June 30, and funding letters are sent out after July 1. The letters are usually sent out on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you file, the quicker you’ll be able to have a funding letter administered to your school or library.

Since the filing window runs from September to March (or April), it’s best to file as early as possible. That way you’ll be first in line for one of these funding letters.

Upon the form being certified, USAC reviews the form to ensure it’s accurate and complies with E-rate program regulations. Once the proposed project is reviewed and accepted by USAC, you will receive a Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) stating whether you’ve been funded (or not), as well as the percentage funded/dollar amount you’ll be receiving. Again, the sooner you file, the sooner you’re likely to receive a funding letter.

Assuming you’ve been funded, submit FCC Form 486. This Receipt of Service form must be filled out in the EPC portal to let USAC know the project has been completed or is in the process of being completed with the chosen service provider.

How to proceed following E-rate funding

Choose the type of invoicing you’d like to proceed with, per program rules. If you pay the provider in full, then you submit a Billed Entity Application Reimbursement (BEAR) Form, FCC Form 472, to USAC for reimbursement. If you choose to receive discounted bills from your service provider, then the service provider submits a Service Provider Invoice (SPI) Form to USAC for payment.

Contact your SHI representative to learn more about E-rate funding, the available services, and how it can help improve internet access and upgrade the network in your school.

Katherine Fernandez and Katherine Toro contributed to this post.

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