The recent opening of the Form 471 Application Window should encourage American schools and libraries to seek E-Rate funding. Also known as the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Program, it provides these institutions subsidies for expanded Wi-Fi networking.
However, although access to these funds is advantageous, applications should be filed with caution. Any school's filling out a Form 471 for E-Rate 2.0 funding needs to be aware of two orders adopted by the FCC in July 2014; these modify the previous standard. The new orders are the:
- E-Rate Modernization Order, which recommends: (a) short-term Wi-Fi connectivity of no less than 100 Mbps per 1,000 users (students and staff) and 1 Gbps Internet access/1,000 users longer term, (b) bandwidth performance measures to achieve connectivity, and (c) procedures for appraising progress, enacted by the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB).
- Second Modernization Order, which further defines and extends the program's budgetary requirements, to help maximize schools'/libraries' capacities for purchasing affordable Wi-Fi connectivity.
In addition, the latest Orders simplified Form 471 application procedures, and increased the funding cap for school/library networking, modifying previous discount and funding structures at the same time.
Five Common E-Rate 2.0 Mistakes
The application process for Form 471 requires a good knowledge of these recent changes to assure the filing process is correctly implemented. Please avoid
- Overlooking deadlines: Even the best-conceived plans can be upset by this common and careless mistake. All government grants have strict procedural requirements; meeting deadlines is among the most basic. Form 471 is no exception, with very specific timeframes for each step of the application process. Missing even one can result in loss of funding. This is particularly true of the Form 471 Certification issued by the USAC. If you miss this deadline, your application will not be considered for funding.
- Inaccurate discount calculations: Each school is responsible for accurate rendering of the discounted costs due them for wireless connectivity services. E-rate discounts must be calculated on a district-wide basis, rather than for each individual school within the district. Providing the wrong figures can lead to a delay in receiving funds and services.
- Breaching bidding regulations: Program participants must carry out a competitive bidding process to select the most cost-effective companies for providing the requested goods and/or services. You can expect funding denials for your district if you violate accepted competitive bidding practices; rules for selecting among competitive bidders for your Wi-Fi services must be followed to the letter. No local favorites please, even if your brother-in-law works for the neighborhood service provider.
- Disregarding communications from USAC: The independent, non-profit USAC administers Universal Service Fund (USF) monies, which are the source of E-Rate funding. The USAC will attempt to contact you if your application is missing information it deems necessary to make an appropriate grant determination. Ignoring these communications and failure to respond is a major, and very avoidable, reason Form 471 applications are denied.
- Ignoring Category 2 Funds: As much as $5 billion in Category 2 funds will be available to the E-Rate program through 2018, in addition to the $3.8 billion/annum already earmarked for improving K-12 connectivity. Rollover funds exceeding $1.5 billion are also available. An abundance of E-Rate dollars are available for public schools and libraries, making Wi-Fi connectivity more affordable with appropriate application.
Under these circumstances this is an opportune time to apply for E-Rate funding. Federal monies exist and will be dispersed to those institutions meeting the program's requirements. Since using Form 471 is imperative to apply, avoiding the described pitfalls should improve your chances of accessing these funds and expanding your school's wireless service.
As an experienced e-rate service provider, SecurEdge has helped hundreds of school's successfully design, deploy and support a secure wireless network using E-Rate funding. If you have any questions regarding your next deployment or wireless network refresh, simply contact us here!