A new application period for the eRate is about to begin, and Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) President George McDonald is urging schools to “file early and file online” using a new electronic certification feature.

SLD announced earlier this week that the application window to file Form 471 for Year Five opens Monday, Nov. 5, at noon EST. The eRate is a federal program that provides discounts to eligible schools and libraries on their telecommunications service, internet access, and internal wiring and other connections necessary to bring internet access into classrooms.

Starting Nov. 5, schools will have 74 calendar days to submit Form 471, the form that applicants use to state what services and providers they have selected. The window officially closes Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

All Form 471 applications received during the window—including those received the very last day—will be considered as having arrived simultaneously and will have greater priority than forms received after Jan. 17.

Given the enormous demand for eRate discounts in the last few years, however, schools that choose not to begin the application process within the designated window are unlikely to receive funding. Forms submitted before the application period begins will not be considered.

Filing Form 471 is the second step of the eRate application process. Before schools submit Form 471, they already should have completed Form 470, a “Description of Services Requested,” and posted it on the SLD web site for 28 days. For step-by-step instructions, see the SLD’s web site (link below).

eCertification

Starting in Year Five, schools will be able to file Form 471 completely online.

Before, schools could complete the form online, but they also had to print out a certification page, sign it, and mail it in. Now, applicants will be permitted to use a personal identification number (PIN) to “sign” the form electronically.

“We are really encouraging people to use the electronic certification. From a selfish point of view, it saves us a lot of time and money,” McDonald said. It also will enable applicants to get a decision from the agency sooner.

The SLD receives more than 30,000 applications each year, and if each one of these applications requires a signed certification page to be mailed in separately, the approval process takes a long time, McDonald said. With electronic certification, the process is simplified and shorter.

Applicants also will benefit by filing online because they will know exactly when an application was submitted, and the electronic version of the form helps avoid simple mistakes.

“It won’t let you put in a date that’s goofy. It won’t let you skip over important information,” McDonald said.

To use eCertification, the person certifying the application on behalf of a school system must get a user identification (ID) number and a PIN.

Identification numbers and PINs are available only for those who have certified an eRate application in previous years, however. “Tens of thousands of people qualify for these user IDs and PINs,” McDonald said.

Those eligible for IDs and PINs can get them on the SLD’s PIN Request web page. “It takes minutes on the web site,” he said.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve switched schools; the only requirement is that SLD has your signature on file. “We need to have a copy of your signature in our database,” McDonald said.

Attachments still must be sent via regular mail, McDonald said, but these need not arrive before the filing window closes.

In addition to filing completely online, applicants should file early, he said.

“Timely notification is dependent upon how early people file and [upon] filing online,” McDonald said. “Eighty-five percent of our applications are filed in the last week.”

There’s no reason people should wait to file their applications, he said. “We hear terrible, horrible stories of things that happen to people, keeping them from missing the filing window, but there isn’t any room for heart in the [Federal Communications Commission’s] rules.”

New Eligible Services List

In addition, the SLD announced that new services—including Internet2, wireless networks, and voice over IP (VoIP)—are now eligible for eRate discounts in Year Five.

Applicants should use the new Eligible Services List, available on the SLD web site, as they prepare Form 471. The new list indicates changes and clarifications in the eligibility of some products and services.

Applicants and service providers should review this new list carefully, McDonald said.

He also added that the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, will be “a big deal.” Year Five eRate recipients will have to be in compliance with CIPA when service starts July 1, 2002, he said.

The law requires schools receiving eRate discounts for their internet access or internal connections to adopt internet safety policies and block students’ access to inappropriate materials online. Schools receiving Year Four discounts had to certify only that they were “in the process” of complying.

When asked whether schools should anticipate any last-minute rules changes this year, McDonald said, “I don’t think there will be any changes in rules or priorities from the FCC, especially considering the date now. So it’s steady as she goes…. Over time, we will be bringing all the forms online for electronic certification.”

McDonald offered this final bit of advice for applicants: Check the SLD web site frequently for updates, news flashes, and additional resources.

Links:

Schools and Libraries Division
http://www.sl.universalservice.org

Step-by-Step Application Guide
http://www.sl.universalservice.org/apply/step1.asp

New Eligible Services List
http://www.sl.universalservice.org/reference/eligible.asp