1. What is E-Rate?
Education Rate (E-Rate) is a Federal program that makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. With funding from the Universal Service Fund, E-Rate provides discounts for telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries.
2. How does the E-Rate program work?
First, an eligible organization identifies goods or services needed and submits a request for competitive bids to the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC). USAC posts these requests on its website for vendors (like ComSource) to bid on this is known as a form 470.
Then, after reviewing the vendors' bids, the school or library selects the most cost-effective eligible products and services using price as the primary factor. It then applies to USAC for approval for the desired purchases this is known as a form 471.
Something to Note: The bid request and competitive bidding processes must comply with FCC rules and also state and local procurement requirements.
3. How do I know if my district is eligible?
Public or private schools (K-12), libraries, and groups of schools and libraries can apply for discounts on eligible services. See the USAC for the full list.
4. What funding is available?
Category One: This category is always funded on a yearly basis.
Data Transmission Services and/or Internet Access
Category Two (C2): This is funded based on a budget calculation which will determine your pre-discounted spending for the next 5 years.
Internal Connections (IC), Managed Internal Broadband Services (MIBS), and Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections (BMIC)
Many changes have been made to the way C2 funding is calculated. The Universal Service Administrative Co have also made it easier by enabling the district to calculate this funding on a district wide level as opposed to a building level in the past. Another great feature is that you can now re distribute equipment to a different location. As with the last round of the Fixed Five Year C2 Funding Cycle, this is a USE IT OR LOSE IT opportunity! If you don’t use the funding in the 5-year period you lose that funding.
Details about how this budget is calculated can be found at the USAC site here.
Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF)
ECF is a $7.17 billion program that will help schools and libraries provide the tools and services their communities need for remote learning during the COVID-19 emergency period. Funding is closed right now but more guidance to come on new waves very soon.
5. How much funding is available?
The funding cap for funding year 2021 was $4.276 billion. Wave 37 for FY 2021 was released on Thursday, December 23rd, for a total of $15.0 million. Cumulative commitments are now $2.51 billion. Nationwide, USAC has now funded 98% of the FY 2021 applications representing 89% of the requested funding.
6. Why should I consider upgrading my district’s telecommunications and information services?
The need to connect students, teachers, and consumers to jobs, life-long learning, and information have led to a steady rise in demand for bandwidth in schools and libraries. In recent years, The Federal Communications Commission refocused E-Rate from legacy telecommunications services to broadband, with a goal to expand Wi-Fi access.
7. What benefits are available under this program?
Eligible schools and libraries may receive discounts on telecommunications, telecommunications services, and Internet access, internal connections, managed internal broadband services, and basic maintenance of internal connections.
See the full list of eligible services here.
8. Can my district receive a discount?
Discounts range from 20% - 90% and are based on the poverty level of the school district. Rural schools and libraries may receive a higher discount and recipients must pay some portion of the service costs.
9. How are requests prioritized?
If demand for E-Rate money is greater than the available funds, funding is allocated first to the highest poverty schools and libraries, then the next-highest poverty applicants, and so on.
10. Does the E-Rate program duplicate state and local efforts?
The FCC's plan complements the efforts of states and localities to bring advanced telecommunications and information services to schools and libraries. When the E-Rate program was established in 1996, only 14% of K-12 classrooms in the U.S. had access to the Internet.
Tips & Tricks from our Experts
Keep Detailed Records
This is a dilemma for the FCC and the customer. There are so many options and in order to afford flexibility in the program you as the customer will need to keep detailed records. At some point you will be asked to answer questions about a 470 or 471 application. Whether you are seeking approval or already have approval, have detailed notes of any movement of equipment or changes to contracts. When in doubt document and check with your E-Rate Consultant.
Make a Meaningful Evaluation Matrix
You are correct that the first and most weighted criteria is price. That said, it is not the only criteria you should be using. As with any other project consider using other factors such as:
- Does the company have regional technical support?
- Have you used this company before?
- Is the company on a state contract?
- Are they a local company?
- Are they financially stable?
- Do they understand the needs in the application?
Be Clear in Your 470 Posting
The more specific you are when you post your 470 the easier it will be for you to make and justify your selection. Attach any supporting documents necessary to clarify your request, and respond to vendors who try to ask questions so that they can make their response clear.