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RFP Templates & Guidance

After deciding your network upgrade needs based on the infrastructure and educational goals your team agreed on, your next step is the purchasing process.If you are using the FCC’s E-Rate funding for any portion of your network upgrade, make sure you understand the complete terms and conditions of utilizing the funds, in addition to any state or local regulations.


RFP Examples

Below are some high-quality templates and tools that you can refer to that can help you get started structuring your Category 1 or Category 2 RFP. As every district is different it is impossible to build a template that is “one size fits all”, so remember to adapt these to meet your own local needs and regulations or contact us for template language specific to your scenario.

When an RFP is required

In the following certain circumstances, writing an RFP and attaching it to your Form 470 is required:

  • Your state or local laws require one
  • You are bidding any of the following Category 1 services:
    • Leased Dark Fiber with or without special construction
    • Self-provisioned networks
    • Network equipment
    • Maintenance & operations

Additionally, if the Form 470 narrative box is not enough to adequately describe your needs, then it is advisable to write an RFP even if it is not required.

Category 1

Internet Access

A bundled Internet connection delivered over a fiber transport circuit Leased Lit Fiber Internet Access
A bundled Internet connection delivered over any type of transport circuit Technology Neutral Internet Access

Wide Area Network (WAN)

Leased lit fiber Leased Lit Fiber WAN
Fully managed “lit” WAN service over fiber or non-fiber transport options Technology Neutral WAN
Leased dark fiber, leased lit fiber, network equipment Leased Dark Fiber
Leased dark fiber (with options for a traditional lease or long-term IRU), leased lit fiber, network equipment Leased Dark Fiber with IRU Option
Self-provisioned fiber, services provided over third-party networks, network equipment, maintenance & operations Self-Provisioned Fiber
All fiber options (leased lit fiber, leased dark fiber (traditional lease and IRU), self-provisioning, and services provided over third-party networks), network equipment, maintenance & operations All Fiber Options

Combined

Internet connectivity and leased lit fiber WAN in one RFP Internet Access and Leased Lit Fiber WAN

Remember: these services must be bid and evaluated separately (ie, you cannot require a provider to bid both services or disqualify them for not doing so)

Category 2
Category 2 RFPs will vary from district to district due to different requirements. As a result it is difficult to create useful template language. Below are some examples of high quality RFPs from Funding Year 2018 for various Category 2 projects. You can use these to think about how you might prepare an RFP. One thing to keep in mind is that USAC does not require an RFP for any Category 2 services and the Form 470 narrative box allows room for quite a bit of detail. You might be able to request everything you need with just a Form 470.
Firewalls and switches as requested by a school district in California RFP
Switches and wireless access points as requested by Allen ISD in Texas for 4 of their elementary schools. RFP prepared by VST Services. Switch RFP
Wireless RFP
Structured cabling work as requested by a school district in Massachusetts RFP
Floorplans

 

Before the RFP

Once you officially release your RFP, the amount of communication you can have with vendors and their solutions will be significantly limited. Therefore, there are several things you should do after deciding on your network upgrade but before you start writing an RFP.

Reaching Out to Potential Vendors

There are a few guidelines you may want to follow in order to build a good working relationship with your potential supplier.

  • Always have a rough idea of what a total solution will cost. If you receive bids that are too far outside of your budget, your time issuing the RFP and the vendors’ time responding has been wasted. Though it is not generally a good idea to tell the vendors what your budget is (they may not submit an aggressive bid if they know your budget), you should talk with them to get a sense of what the total solution might cost.
  • Provide prep time. Inform suppliers in advance of your intent to put out an RFP, giving them ample time to assess any infrastructure updates.
  • Control the project. You should absolutely listen to your supplier’s guidance but be careful to not let them drive the process and ensure their suggestions benefit you.
  • Create competition. The more suppliers you invite to the candidate pool, the more options you have when it comes to picking your vendor. Sometimes, it may be worth your time to look into non-traditional suppliers – for example, fiber construction firms, to drive competition in the RFP.

Request for Information (RFI)

By issuing an RFI before official procurement, you can identify which providers offer service in your area and get an overview of their solutions and service offerings. This will also generate interest and create competition for your future RFP. Any information supplied in an RFI is non-binding and the process is not for formal procurement.

A good timeline is to post an RFI at the start of the school year and leave it open for a month.  This will give you 2-4 weeks to review responses, write your RFP, and post the RFP by late Fall.

Note that E-rate has no rules or requirements about issuing an RFI, so the only requirements to follow are those laid out by your local and state procurement laws. EducationSuperHighway has compiled an RFI template and examples:

ESH – RFI Samples and Template


Other Considerations Specific to Category 2

For Category 2, there are some extra considerations and tasks before writing an RFP.

  • Solutions Testing: Most manufacturers will lend you test equipment that you can install in your environment (they may even assist you) and test over the course of several weeks. This really allows you to get a feel for the complexity to implement these networks, as well as the performance, monitoring, and management over time. It is important to buy equipment that you ior your team are capable of managing day-to-day.
  • Understand Licensing Models for Each Manufacturer: The purpose of the license and the services provided under a license can vary by product line. Some systems require a license that simply allows a WAP to associate to the controller. Other systems’ licenses enable access to a cloud controller, firmware updates, software updates, and technical support. Some manufacturers charge a license fee every year, while others have multi-year licenses available. Each manufacturer’s model is different, so you should talk with your vendor about required licenses to help you fully understand the ongoing cost of your new wireless network.
  • History of the Product Line and Manufacturer: research and ask the manufacturer about their history. Are they new to the industry or do they have an established product line and market share? Are they coming out with new product lines or have they gone stagnant? How often do they release bug fixes or new software/firmware? You don’t want to invest in a vendor who is not keeping their products up to date with the latest technologies or who is not financially stable.

Drafting an RFP

The actual content of the RFP can be broken down into information to provide and information to request. Your RFP should clearly state who you are and what you’re looking for, but it also should ask what services they are able to offer and how will they deliver that service specifically to you. The more relevant information you provide, the more appropriate the responses will be.

Reminder: Do not state a preference for a particular service type or component. Even if you believe a particular service will meet your current and future needs the best, stating a preference for this is a violation of E-rate’s fair and competitive bidding rules. By doing this, you risk having any funding requests associated with your RFP denied.

Things to provide in an RFP
  • Your school district overview
  • Project Summary
  • Purpose (goals, objectives, drivers)
  • Current Environment (As-Is) – what your network is like now
  • Scope of work (overall, service requirements)
  • Proposal submission guidelines
  • Administrative and Legal Requirements
  • A specific response template or matrix for vendors to use when submitting their proposal. This will limit irrelevant information and reduce the likelihood of receiving “boilerplate” responses.

Things to request in the RFP
  • Service Capabilities
  • Service Proposal
  • Service Cost
  • Describe start-up requirements or lead time required to begin services
  • Describe Invoicing, remittance, reconciliation process
  • Describe any additional professional services that may be beneficial to you
  • Organization charts
  • Annual sales numbers
  • Company history
  • References
  • Bandwidth increases on Category 1 services
  • Site surveys for wi-fi upgrades

Things to review before releasing the RFP
  • Is it clear what the RFP is asking for?
  • Does your RFP comply with E-rate, state-level, and local bidding rules?
  • Are the goals of the project clear?
  • Are the roles of each party clearly defined?
  • Is it clear what the next steps are in the procurement process?

General milestones for dealing with vendors and RFP's
  • Release the RFP
  • Conduct vendor conferences and site visits (if necessary)
  • Allow vendors to submit questions while you wait for their responses
  • Vendors submit their responses by set deadline
  • Give yourself ample time to review and conduct follow-up Q&A, if needed

REMINDER: If a vendor submits any questions about the RFP and you answer them, all questions and answers must be publicly posted as an addendum to your RFP. This addendum also restarts the 28-day Form 470 window.  Failure to post questions and answers publicly or failure to wait 28 days after posting is a violation of fair and competitive bidding. This can result in the denial of a funding request.