E-Rate is an FCC program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The program receives about $4 billion in funding per year. Funding is made available in five-year cycles, and you can request funding in a lump sum for all five years, or to receive a portion each year. If the total of all requested funds is greater than what is available, the money is allocated to institutions by poverty rate in descending order. What should you expect throughout the process?
Competitive Bidding & Bid Selection
First, you must identify the equipment and services you need and that are eligible for the program. There are two eligible categories: Category One covers network access up to the building, while Category Two covers internal network infrastructure. We will address these in more detail later.
After identifying your needs, you can submit your request for proposals to the USAC. The USAC posts your request on its website for vendors to bid on. You must allow at least 28 days for bids to be entered. At the end of this window, you must rank bids according to an evaluation matrix that you prepare. Though you can decide which factors to include, cost-effectiveness must be one of them, and it must have the heaviest weight. After formally accepting a bid, you can work with your selected service provider to apply for discounts.
Applying for Discounts
Discounts are available to you based on the percentage of your student population that is eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In some cases, rural institutions receive higher discounts.
Applications must be submitted during an approximately two-month filing window at the beginning of each year. Your submission must include a detailed description of the requested equipment and services, information on your selected provider, and your discount calculation. Therefore, it is essential that you have all the details sorted out ahead of time to avoid missing the filing deadline.
USAC will review your application for compliance. They will check that only eligible equipment and services are included, that you can cover your portion of the costs, and that any resources that are ineligible but necessary for the project have been obtained. After your application is reviewed, you will get a decision letter.
Once you receive your decision letter, there are some details you should review with your service provider. These include what you will receive, the contract, and whether you or the provider will invoice USAC for reimbursement. In most cases, this will happen after July 1. Once you confirm with USAC that service has started, you or your service provider can invoice USAC for the discount amount.