1. Read the SLD’s updated list of eligible and ineligible services before you apply.
To clarify some of the gray areas in its list of eligible and ineligible services, the SLD plans to issue an updated version before the close of the application window. This updated list is based on the funding decisions the SLD made on first-year applications. Though it was still pending approval from the FCC at press time, the list should be available on the SLD’s web site by the time you read this and should give you a clearer understanding of what is eligible for funding and what is not.
2. Apply for everything you’re entitled to.
Make sure you take full advantage of the eRate, for everything from plain old telephone service to any internal wiring projects you plan to do this summer. Some of last year’s applicants applied only for discounts on internet access or internal connections because they didn’t realize that basic charges for local and long-distance telephone service were covered as well. Checking the updated list of eligible and ineligible services might also reveal services that you didn’t know were eligible.
Although you can’t apply for any services that weren’t included on a Form 470 and then posted to the SLD’s web site for 28 days during the current filing window, some states have filed a Form 470 for services covered under a statewide master contract and you might be able to take advantage of these discounted services if you haven’t already filed a Form 470 for them yourself. For example, Virginia schools can file a Form 471 requesting voice, video, and data services purchased from NET.WORK. VIRGINIA’s master contract with the state.
3. Apply online to guarantee receipt of your application by April 6.
As the first program year demonstrated, if you fail to submit your application within the filing window, you’ll most likely be out of luck. Don’t let that happen to you in Year Two. Beginning this year, you have the option of filing your Form 471 online from a Windows-based PC. If possible, you should take advantage of this option to guarantee receipt of your Form 471 on or before April 6.
Keep in mind that if you apply online, you still have to submit hard copies of certain items to the SLD via mail, such as your discount calculation worksheet and signature page. These items must also be received by the SLD by April 6 if you want to be considered “in the window.” Though filing online may give you extra time to complete your application, make sure you send these items in on timeor all your work may be for naught.
If you cannot or choose not to file online, make sure you give yourself enough time to complete and submit your application so that it is receivednot postmarkedby 11:59 p.m. EST on April 6. Be sure to send everything via certified mail or return receipt requestedincluding your signature page if you apply onlineso you have proof of its arrival.
4. Calculate your discount properly.
You should calculate your discount based on the percentage of your students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, not the percentage of students who actually participate in the program. The participation figures are usually lowerespecially at the high school level, where there’s often a stigma attached to the program.
One way to identify students who are eligible, but not participating, is to check for students who have siblings in lower grades who participate in the program. If the siblings share the same household, the older siblings are eligible for free or reduced lunches as well. Another way is to use student participation figures from other federal or state government programs.
If you’re applying as a school district or consortium, remember also to calculate your discount as a weighted average of the discount percentages of each individual school or library, not as a straight average. For example, if your district has three schools that qualify for 40, 60, and 80 percent discounts respectively, your district’s average discount isn’t just 60 percent. Instead, you’d multiply each school’s discount by the number of students in that school, then add those figures and divide by the total number of students in the district to get a weighted average discount.
5. Recognize the difference between “shared” and “site-specific” services.
Any service you can tie to a particular site should be listed as “site-specific” for the purpose of calculating its discount, and services that are shared among multiple buildings are considered “shared.” Telecommunications services are often shared, so to calculate their discount you’d use the average discount percentage of the district. Internal connections are almost always site-specific, so to calculate their discount you’d use the discount percentage of the specific school to which the services apply. (One exception would be a district-level internet file server that supports local schools; this would be considered a shared service.)
6. List different service providers under separate FRNs.
Each Funding Request Number (FRN) on your Form 471 should pertain to services offered by only one service provider. You should therefore remember to list local and long-distance telephone service under separate FRNs, for example. Although you may only get one phone bill each month that encompasses both services, they are actually provided by different service providers with different service provider identification numbers (SPINs).
7. List each product or service under its own FRN as much as possible.
This is particularly important if you’re applying for any services that you’re not sure will be covered under the eRate. The SLD makes funding decisions on a line-by-line basis, so assigning each distinct service its own FRN whenever possible will guarantee that if a request for one service is rejected, that rejection won’t affect the status of any other requests you’ve made.
8. Separate eligible from ineligible uses properly.
If any service that you’re applying for is shared by an ineligible entity, the portion of the cost that is shared by the ineligible entity must be factored out of your discount calculation. For example, if a phone line is shared between a parochial school and the church administrative office, only the portion of the service relating to the school would be eligible for discount.
Likewise, if any service that you’re applying for contains an ineligible component, the cost of the ineligible component must be factored out as well. For example, a satellite dish is ineligible unless it is leased as part of a telecommunications service. If you purchase satellite-based internet access from a service provider and are charged a one-time activation fee that includes the cost of buying and installing a dish, you must subtract this cost from the total service charge before calculating your discount.
To separate eligible from ineligible services within each funding request, you can use the SLD’s “Form 471 Optional Pre-Discount Cost Calculation Grid,” available on the agency’s web site:
9. Check your application against the SLD’s minimum processing standards.
Another advantage to submitting your Form 471 online is that the electronic form prompts you to complete each field in full, thereby preventing you from submitting an incomplete application. That’s not the case with a printed copy of the form, though. If your application isn’t filled out completely, it will be sent back to you automaticallymeaning you’ll lose your place in the window while you supply the missing information. To avoid an automatic rejection, check your completed application carefully against the SLD’s minimum processing standards listed on its web site before submitting it: