eRate changes aim to cut costs, boost efficiency

For instance, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau was given the authority to designate “preferred master contracts” for Category 2 equipment—the routers, switches, wireless access points, and other equipment needed to bring broadband access into classrooms.

Schools and libraries wouldn’t have to file a Form 470 to request services included in these master contracts, although they would have to consider these services in their evaluation of eRate bids.

To encourage bulk purchasing, the FCC has changed its rules on consortium applications. Starting next year, the eRate forms will distinguish whether the leader of a consortium has the authority to make buying decisions for its member districts—or whether it only has the authority to seek competitive bids on behalf of members.

This change opens up membership in a purchasing consortium to schools that don’t want to hand over full buying power to another entity—while still letting them take advantage of volume pricing.

Simplifying the eRate application process

Besides aiming to reduce the cost of eRate-eligible services, the FCC has taken a number of steps to make it easier for schools and libraries to apply. For instance…

• To encourage more multiyear contracts and to expedite the review of these contracts, applicants will be required to fill out a complete Form 471 only once for these services, in the first year of the contract. After that, applicants will be able to submit a streamlined application for each remaining year.

The maximum length of a multiyear contract is five years, and applicants will not be able to receive multiyear funding commitments, the FCC said.

• Starting next year, applicants no longer will have to submit a technology plan to receive funding for Category 2 services. But just because you don’t have to file a technology plan doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one, the FCC noted.

• Some low-cost purchases have been exempted from the FCC’s Form 470 posting and bidding requirements. In particular, if you’re spending $3,600 or less per building, per year, on the pre-discounted cost of internet access with at least 100 megabits per second of downstream bandwidth and 10 Mbps of upstream bandwidth, you don’t have to file a Form 470 and competitively bid this service.

• The FCC has relaxed its rules about signing a contract for eRate services before filing a Form 471. Acknowledging that it can be hard to get all the required signatures before the filing deadline, the agency has amended its rules to state that you need “a signed contract or other legally binding agreement in place” before filing a Form 471.

• Applicants will be allowed to invoice USAC directly for reimbursements on eRate-eligible services they pay for in full. Before, USAC would release funding only to service providers, which then would pass on the funding to schools—but this required a lot of coordination between applicants and their service providers.

The FCC has also added more stringent rules to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse. For example, eRate applicants must keep all documentation for 10 years instead of five, and they have to let USAC officials inspect any installations if requested.

See also:

A $5 billion bounty: How to use eRate support for Wi-Fi

New eRate rules invite a new approach: Managed Wi-Fi

eRate changes prompt new voice options for schools

School eMail, websites hit by eRate changes

New discount method could help—or hurt—eRate applicants

Dennis Pierce

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