The application window to file Form 471 for Year Five of the eRate opened 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. Up to $2.25 billion in funding is at stake.

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 application window officially closes Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Only Form 471 applications received during the window are guaranteed to receive funding.

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. (A Form 470 need not be filed for services already under a multiyear contract; for step-by-step instructions, see the SLD’s web site.)

Garnet Person, chief executive officer of the consulting firm eRate Elite Services Inc. and a former SLD division manager, offers these 10 tips for ensuring your fair share of discounts:

1. Don’t be shy about asking for funds. Ask for everything you think you’re entitled to—the worst SLD can do is say “no.” Just remember to file a Form 470 for all requested services that aren’t currently under contract, and make sure this form is posted on the SLD web site for 28 days before you sign a contract.

2. Dec. 20 is the cutoff date for filing a Form 470 for Year Five discounts. After Dec. 20, you won’t have enough time to post Form 470 for 28 days and still submit your Form 471 within the filing window.

3. SLD denied roughly $590 million in Year Four requests simply because applicants missed the filing deadline—so make sure you submit your application on time, and make sure you have proof. (Filing online automatically gives you confirmation of when your application was submitted.)

4. Calculating your appropriate discount percentage can be an art form. While the primary method for determining eRate discounts is the percentage of students who meet the Income Eligibility Guidelines for the National School Lunch Program, you may find significant differences between your eligibility and participation figures, particularly at the high school level. The rarely used Alternative Discount Mechanisms (available on SLD’s web site) offer valuable ways to increase your discount percentage. It’s okay to use more than one of these methods at the same time; just be careful not to double-count any students.

5. If you have a mix of high-discount and low-discount schools, submit separate applications for the high-discount schools. They’ll stand a better chance of getting funding for Priority Two requests (internal connections) if their discount percentage isn’t driven down in a weighted average with other schools.

6. Break out each funding request on a separate line item as much as possible. If more than 30 percent of the items contained in a particular funding request are ineligible, the entire line-item request is denied.

7. Take advantage of the SLD Interim, if necessary. This is a “ghost” service provider identification number that allows you to submit an application on time without having chosen a service provider yet.

8. Carefully review your receipt acknowledgment letter when you get it. This marks your last chance to correct any errors in your application without having to file an appeal.

9. Appeal any decision you don’t agree with. Three-fourths of SLD reviewers are temporary staff, and an estimated 15 to 20 percent of applications reach the agency’s final reviewers with some sort of SLD error. You have 30 days from the postmarked date of your decision letter to file an appeal.

10. If you must go away for any reason, make sure there is a clear chain of command for SLD correspondence. Typically, you’ll have only seven days to answer a question about your application from the agency. n

Related links:
eRate Elite Services Inc.
http://www.erateelite.com

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

Alternative Discount Mechanisms Fact Sheet
http://www.sl.universalservice.org/reference/alt.asp