The filing window for the 2008 e-Rate funding cycle will open at noon on Nov. 7, 2007, said the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the organization charged with administering policy for the e-Rate program.

The Form 471 filing window will close on Feb. 7, 2008. To be eligible for funding, however, schools and libraries must file their Forms 470, the description of services requested, by Dec. 27, 2007, because this form must be posted to USAC’s web site for 28 days before any contracts are signed and Forms 471 are filed.

The e-Rate is the $2.25 billion-a-year federal program that provides discounts of up to 90 percent on the cost of telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries.

USAC also announced that there will be “slight modifications” to the certifications found on Forms 470 and 471, but it has not announced when the new versions of the forms will be available.

Funding Year 2008, the program’s eleventh year, runs from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009.

“The filing window is set to close about two weeks earlier than it did last year, which I think is a sign that the processes [USAC] has in place are even better than they were last year,” said Scott Weston, executive director of information services for the e-Rate consulting firm Funds for Learning.

“It’s a sign that hopefully the application review process will move even faster this year, and that applicants will receive funding commitment decision letters sooner.”

Although e-Rate administrators have promoted a variety of new forms and rule changes in past years, this year’s training sessions are focusing on a “back to the basics” approach.

“The whole thrust this year is to … get people to [understand that] when you do the basics right, your application generally goes right,” said Mel Blackwell, vice president of USAC’s Schools and Libraries Division (SLD).

“This year, we’ve kept [the program] kind of static so we can focus on the basics. We’ve found over the years that some of the same basic mistakes keep cropping up; we’re focusing on [lessening] that,” Blackwell said. “[We think we’ll] see more people being successful and filing fewer appeals, and when you get to that point, the process goes more quickly.”

He added: “Year after year, we’ve had a lot of big changes, new forms, new ways to apply, and we’re taking a breather. [We] think things will look a bit more familiar to people for two years in a row.”

SLD recommends that e-Rate applicants keep documents for five years from the last day that services are delivered for each program year. Both applicants and service providers should keep all records related to the application, receipt, and delivery of discounted services.

Blackwell said the top five kinds of documentation that are most frequently missing are discount verifications, adequately maintained asset listings, signed and dated contracts, consultant agreements, and bid evaluation or award schedules.

Applicants are advised to make copies of all forms and create an e-Rate folder to help keep this information organized and accessible.

Training materials, as well as sample documents and checklists, can be found on SLD’s web site.

“We’re going to really work with people on getting back to the basics,” Blackwell reiterated. “If you do the fundamentals right, then you get [funding].”

Links:

USAC’s Schools and Libraries Division

Funds for Learning LLC