Though the second year of the eRate has just gotten underway, it’s not too early to begin thinking of Year Three. New to the application process for next year will be an “evergreen” Form 470 that is unbundled from the application window–which means you’ll be able to file a slightly revised version of Form 470 as early as next month.
One of the chief complaints from eRate applicants has been that waiting to file a Form 470 within the filing window doesn’t give large school districts with complex bidding requirements enough time to solicit bids and enter into contracts before they have to file a Form 471. Filing a Form 470 within the proscribed window also has interfered with the natural bidding cycles of some states and municipalities.
Tops among the list of changes suggested by the Year Three Task Force, then, was the removal of Form 470 from the filing window. Eventually, you’ll be able to file a Form 470 any time after July 1 to begin the eRate bidding and procurement process for the following year; but for now, the SLD still is awaiting FCC approval of the revised form. According to the SLD, this form should be available in “early fall.”
The revised Form 470 must be filed each year for new and tariffed services, but only once for multi-year contracts. This also is a new rule; up to now, you had to file a Form 470 for each new program year, regardless of whether you were requesting new or existing services.
But, since the purpose of Form 470 is to initiate the bidding process–and since services covered under multi-year contracts don’t require bidding–once you file the revised Form 470 in Year Three, you won’t have to file another one the following year for services already under contract.
The filing window will remain in place for Form 471, and next year’s window will open later this fall. The SLD is considering either a 60-day window that runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15, closing in time for Christmas vacation; or a 90-day window that runs from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15.
Either way, the agency’s goal is to have all of next year’s funding commitments mailed out by May 1, 2000. And either way, provided that Year Two funding commitments are finished by October, you can expect to be asked to apply for Year Three funding in just a few short months.
Things you can do to get ready
- Make a list of all new and existing services that you plan to apply for discounts on. Use last year’s forms to help you take stock of existing services, and conduct a needs assessment with your technology team as soon as you learn the status of your Year Two funding.
- Read the SLD’s updated list of eligible and ineligible services. To clarify some of the gray areas in its list of eligible and ineligible services, the SLD plans to issue an updated list before the start of Year Three. This updated list will be based on the decisions the SLD made on first- and second-year applications. Assuming it becomes available before the next application cycle, the list should give you a clearer idea of what services you can apply for and what you can’t.
- Talk to your vendors and other eRate applicants to get new ideas. Many telecommunications companies are offering special eRate-eligible packages or add-ons, such as toll-free “homework hotlines” that students can use to contact the school for help on their homework. Ask your vendors what kinds of special eRate-eligible services they might offer, and consult with other school districts, your local BOCES, or your state Department of Education to see what ideas they might have to offer as well.
Lessons learned from Years One and Two
The following advice comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and may be useful when you apply for Year Three discounts:
- Attend workshops. Most state departments of education hold free workshops for interested parties prior to the close of the application window. If your state doesn’t hold a workshop, call the SLD to ask if they will attend a workshop you plan, either in person or via conference call.
- Don’t assume that vendors are informed, particularly if they’re new to the eRate. Make sure your vendors have applied for a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) in order to participate in the program. Encourage them to sign up for listservs and attend workshops with you, and find out how they plan to integrate discounts into your bills, reimburse you for services paid in full, etc.
- Make sure you also comply with state and local competitive bidding requirements. Posting a Form 470 to the SLD’s web site is not a replacement for existing competitive bidding requirements. You’d hate to be near the end of the application window and realize that you didn’t post a request for proposals in your local newspaper, etc., and therefore are in violation of state law.
- Draft your contracts with service providers to include language specifying eRate billing compliance and “out clauses” in case funding is denied. If a service provider is unwilling to include such language in your contract, it probably isn’t “eRate friendly” and should be reconsidered as your service provider.
- Always submit your questions to the SLD via eMail or fax. In the past, some answers from the SLD’s Client Service Bureau have been entirely inaccurate. At least with eMail or fax, you have a paper trail to back you up. If you don’t believe the SLD has provided you with an accurate answer, double-check its response with a third party, or resubmit your question and ask that a supervisor respond.
- Send everything to the SLD via return receipt. Keep copies of everything you send, as well as copies of return receipts and fax confirmation sheets if you fax something to the SLD and eMail or fax replies to questions you have posed to the Client Service Bureau. You may need the copies later if you have a dispute involving your application.
- Stay in the window. Stay in the window. Stay in the window. It’s that simple. Don’t allow yourself to submit your Form 471 on the last day and take the chance of it getting lost or being rejected, leaving you no time to resubmit it.