Each E-rate cycle, we receive questions from E-rate Consultants about navigating the latest USAC rule changes and best practices for Form 470/RFP filings. This year, we’ve put together a Complete Category 1 webinar series and “Consult the Consultant” blogs with our top tips for crafting high-quality RFPs, managing vendor negotiations, evaluating bids, and more.
We are kicking off our “Consult the Consultant” blog series with our best practices for crafting a Category 1 Special Construction RFP for school districts. In this post, Mighty River Chief Operating Officer Joe Freddoso and our team at EducationSuperHighway break down five key elements of Special Construction RFPs that can help you maximize the likelihood of receiving quality bids and getting your projects approved during E-rate PIA review:
1. Mandatory walk-throughs
Requiring bidders to attend a walk-through helps limit responses to ‘serious’ bidders by weeding out those who were only willing to submit generic responses. Mandatory walk-throughs are an opportunity to help bidders formulate an accurate response by providing them with important information and answering any questions that are not covered in the RFP.
2. Differentiated NRC and MRC costs
The E-rate Form 471 requires that up-front Non-recurring Charges (NRC)/Special Construction costs must be broken out from Monthly Recurring Charges (MRC) for the ongoing service. Require that vendors break out their pricing proposals in order to make the difference clear and easy to add to your Form 471. Some non-recurring charges, like optical signal regeneration equipment (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing or DWDM gear) for long fiber routes are non-recurring, one-time charges that are not special construction charges.
3. Questions From Vendors and Your Responses
Your RFP should include a means for vendors to submit questions about the project through an email address or a simple form. Add a deadline by which those questions must be submitted. Questions should be answered in writing and those answers should be uploaded as an addendum to your E-rate Form 470/RFP in the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) portal. Make sure that your bid window close date is at least 28 days after you post the answers to bidder questions. Failure to allow at least 28 days for vendors to absorb the new information could result in a funding denial based on the ‘Cardinal Change Rule.’
4. Vendor Commitment to PIA Process
Questions asked of the applicant during the PIA process are often highly technical, and will require you to obtain information from your winning vendor, or for the vendor to answer those questions directly. Have your RFP include a clause that requires bidders to agree to participate in the PIA process, and answer any questions asked during that process that only they can answer. You may also wish to state in the RFP that a failure to agree to this requirement will result in the disqualification of the bid. Include requests for detailed construction costs in the RFP. Even if all bidders do not include this detailed cost information in their bid, it will prepare the bidder for future questions.
5. Statement on excess strands
In the case of a leased lit fiber or leased dark fiber project with special construction, it is almost certain that the vendor will be installing far more strands of fiber optic cable than will be needed or used by your school sites. Be sure to include information indicating that the bidder will be responsible for cost-allocating out the cost of the excess strands.
If the above seems like a lot to consider, you are in luck! EducationSuperHighway maintains and frequently updates quality RFP templates for Special Construction projects, which include all of the above clauses and information. You may access these resources in our Upgrade Toolkit1 and schedule a call to speak with us if you have any questions about your Form 470/RFP filings this E-rate cycle.
1Please note that you will need to add any state/local procurement laws or requirements, and also to further personalize the document with your specific project description and local conditions before publication.