As it stands now, the 1999-2000 eRate application window opens Dec. 1, 1998. The length of this window is 80 days, which means you have until 11:59 p.m. EST on Feb. 19, 1999 to submit your Forms 471 to the SLC. Applications submitted Feb. 20 or later still will be accepted, but if the first program year is any indication, there won’t be any funds left to fulfill your requests unless you make it in under the window.

For schools that have long bidding and procurement cycles, or schools that need more time to manage the request for proposal (RFP) process for large and complex projects, 80 days may not be enough time to submit a Form 470, entertain bids, sign a contract, and submit a Form 471.

Using the FCC’s rules for pre-existing contracts, though, you can get a jump on the bidding process before Dec. 1 and still meet the guidelines of the program. Then you won’t have to wait until the application window opens to start your complex bidding process.

Here’s how:

In a nutshell, you’ll start the proposal, bidding, and contracting process against the current 1998 funding year. This will establish your contract as a 1998-initated, multi-year contract. Then, during the 1999-2000 application window that opens Dec. 1, you’ll file for eRate discounts on this “pre-existing” contract.

First, a quick review of the rules. The eRate application process allows you to sign multi-year contracts and apply for continued eRate support in future years against this “pre-existing” contract, without having to rebid the contract each year.

You’re also allowed to use the eRate bidding and application process to sign a qualified contract any time during a funding year, even after the application window of that funding year has closed.

Since the 1998 funding year is still in effect, then, you can begin the eRate competitive bidding and contracting process now (before Dec. 1, 1998) to establish a 1998-initiated multi-year contract.

If the contract is competitively bid under eRate guidelines and signed in 1998 for services that extend into 1999 or beyond, it is considered a qualified “pre-existing” contract and does not need to be rebid during the application windows of the 1999-2000 and future funding years.

Then, when the application window opens Dec. 1, you would submit an eRate application against this pre-existing contract to request eRate support for fiscal year 1999-2000.

Here’s the detailed sequence:

(1)File a Form 470 against the current 1998 funding year. Yes, technically you can still do this.

(2)Follow your local competitive RFP/bidding process.

(3)Wait at least 28 days after your Form 470 was posted to the SLC’s web site.

(4)Select your vendor(s) and sign contracts. Do this before Jan. 21, 1999 (28 days before the window closes on Feb. 19, 1999).

(5)File a Form 470 against the 1999 funding year, indicating that you have qualified pre-existing contracts. Do this on Dec. 1, 1998, or on the date you sign your contracts in step (4), whichever is later.

(6)Wait at least 28 days after this Form 470 has been posted to the SLC’s web site.

(7)File a Form 471, also against the 1999 funding year, to request funding for the pre-existing contracts you signed in step (4) for the funding year from July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2000.

This mechanism enables you to start the eRate bidding process before Dec. 1, 1998, giving you more time to accommodate long and complex bidding situations.

As always, the SLC holds the official judgment on the administration of the eRate program and should be consulted for official guidance. The SLC’s Client Service Bureau can be reached at (888) 203-8100.

As eRate solution manager of IBM’s Educational Industry Solution Unit, Man Bui works with schools and libraries to help them understand, apply for, and make effective use of the eRate. He can be reached via eMail at mmbui@us.ibm.com.