“One of the biggest problems in the whole application process is that new people come on so frequently,” Blackwell said. “Anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of applicants could be new e-Rate coordinators.” Simplified forms will help those new applicants as they adjust to different e-Rate rules and deadlines and maintain records, he said.
In its training sessions for applicants, which began last month for the 2011 program year, USAC is emphasizing the importance of saving e-Rate records, Blackwell said, and the agency hopes to update its capabilities in that area soon.
In fact, USAC is working on a mechanism—similar to filing federal tax returns—that will present schools and libraries with their previous year’s e-Rate application and give them an easy way to make any necessary changes before submitting the application for the new filing year, instead of having to start from scratch each year.
“That will simplify a lot of things,” Blackwell said. It also will help new e-Rate coordinators, he added, who might not have access to prior e-Rate applications completed by past coordinators.
“If you come in new, and have no records of what [your school] has applied for in the past, we should be able to provide that for you,” he explained. USAC hopes to make this feature live in a future funding year.
“We also want to go green, and instead of sending out paper, we want to do it electronically, such as funding decisions,” Blackwell said. “When we do go green, communication back and forth will speed up, and people will receive funding decisions quicker,” he predicted.
“All these changes are incremental,” Blackwell said. “But when you add them together, they really make a difference.”
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