To minimize potential disruptions caused by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), on March 13, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau directed USAC to extend the deadline for applicants to submit their FY 2020 FCC Form 471 applications by an additional 35 days. E-rate applicants now have until Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. EDT to submit their FY 2020 FCC Form 471 applications. They also directed USAC to provide all applicants with an automatic, 14-day extension for Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) requests. Read the public notice announcing the action here.
Although little has changed on the 471 since last year’s filing window, here are some tips and reminders to help you navigate the filing process effectively and on time.WAIT 28 DAYS
When you are evaluating bids, make sure you follow the bid evaluation criteria you decided on at the beginning of the process. If you introduce new criteria or eliminate a bid based on criteria that was not disclosed in your 470/RFP, that could be grounds for a competitive bidding violation and subsequent denial of your funds. And remember, you must select the most cost-effective solution; while this doesn’t always mean the least expensive, you need to make sure you have a solid, written explanation of why you selected your winner and be ready to defend it during the review process.
- Line Item Information: For Category 2 projects (internal connections equipment and services), you are often purchasing a lot of different items, from routers and wireless access points down to jacks, screws, and cables. On the Form 471 you will need to enter the information for every last piece of equipment, the number of each item being purchased, and the cost. We recommend asking your vendor to fill out a spreadsheet with this information for you, which you can then upload into the EPC system instead of having to type it all out yourself. You can find templates for these spreadsheets HERE.
- Build Cost Information: If your new Internet Access or WAN service requires special construction of fiber optic or microwave connections, you need to be prepared for a LOT of questions regarding the build costs. Many of these questions can only be answered by your vendor, so make sure and reach out to them as quickly as possible to gather this data. This information may include:
- For fiber builds, the length of the fiber being installed in feet, and the cost per foot of the construction.
- The cost of any modulating electronics, maintenance, and operations, or additional equipment (for dark fiber or self-provisioned fiber projects).
- The number of strands of fiber being installed. The E-rate program will only cover the cost of the actual number of strands being lit and used by the applicant, so if additional strands are being installed a cost allocation should be done for the incremental cost of those extra strands.
- You will need to follow the application process specific to your state. Links to this information can be found here.
- On your Form 471, when you create your FRN for the special construction costs, you will be asked if state matching funds are available. Answer ‘yes’ and then upload the requested documentation. If you have not received approval for state match, upload a placeholder showing that you have applied; you will then need to provide proof of approval during the review process.
- Bid evaluation score sheets, notes, and memos.
- School board minutes and records related to contract approval.
- All correspondence with service providers.
- ALL bids received, whether winning or losing.
- Supporting documentation for your discount level (i.e. NSLP school lunch forms or surveys).
READ YOUR RAL: After submitting your Form 471 you will receive a “Receipt Acknowledgement Letter” (RAL), actually a message via the EPC system, confirming that your form has been submitted. Read this carefully! If you notice any errors in the data you submitted on your Form 471, the RAL gives you the opportunity to submit corrections before the PIA review process begins. This can speed up your review and get you your discounts much faster. You can see a list of what is correctable HERE.
BE AVAILABLE: At the beginning of your Form 471, there is a field that asks for “Summer Contact Information.” If you are going to take a much-deserved vacation, or be out of the office or away from your email for part of the summer, be sure and provide alternative contact information in this field.
If the PIA reviewer reaches out to you to begin the review process and does not receive a response, they will put a ‘summer hold’ on your application and it will not be looked at again until September. Furthermore, once the PIA process has started you definitely don’t want to be out of contact, as you typically only have 15 days to respond to PIA questions, after which they will simply review your application without the information they have requested – and usually deny it.