E-rate stretches the buying power of schools and libraries and gives them access to unprecedented connectivity. Applying for E-rate funding is no easy task, though. It can be a complicated and tricky process that is difficult to navigate. As the 2017 filing window opens, here are a few tips to keep in mind when applying:
Tip 1: Plan ahead!
In order to apply for E-rate funding, you’ll need an entity number and an E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) account. You should also have your site information ready to go. These three items will allow you to fill out your Form 470(s) efficiently. In this form you’ll be able to describe the goods and services your organization needs. Allowing yourself enough time to fill this out correctly will help your organization in the long run. Upon completion and after the 28-day posting period, you’ll be able to review the bids and proposals, select a provider and sign an agreement. Cost should be the biggest factor in your service provider decision-making process.
Tip 2: Pay attention!
Now that you’ve selected your service providers and awarded contracts, you’re ready to complete the Form 471 application process. Funding requests can be submitted using multiple Form 471s. Just make sure that all of the forms are submitted by the deadline. There are a number of important certifications on these documents, and it’s important you fill them out accurately and completely. Once your funding requests has been reviewed, USAC will issue you one or more funding decision letters. If you feel that USAC has incorrectly reduced or denied your requests, you may submit an appeal — but it must be done no later than 60 days after the date of the decision letter.
Next, you must submit the Form 486 to notify USAC that you intend to use your discounts and that services have started. Be sure to submit it on time. Also, if you are seeking reimbursement for services already rendered, be sure you fill out the Form 472 by the payment deadline.
Tip 3: Stay diligent!
Remember, earlier submissions mean earlier funding commitments. The closer you get to the deadline, the less margin of error you have. That’s why it’s important to set expectations for yourself and your organization to be sure your applications gets in on time. Equally as important, applicants must maintain their records for at least 10 years after the last date of service was delivered. This will protect your organization and allow you to comply with audits and other inquiries.
John Harrington is the CEO of Funds For Learning, a national E-rate consultancy.
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