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E-Rate Central News for the Week
July 6, 2015

Introduction

The E-Rate Central News for the Week is prepared by E-Rate Central. E-Rate Central specializes in providing consulting, compliance, and forms processing services to E-rate applicants. To learn more about our services, please contact us by phone (516-801-7804), fax (516-801-7814), or through our Contact Us Web form. Additional E-rate information is located on the E-Rate Central website.

Funding Status

Wave 7 for FY 2015, which we had originally thought might have been released late last week, will be released today, July 6th. Funding for FY 2015 is available for both Category 1 and Category 2 at all discount levels. Cumulative funding for FY 2015 through Wave 6 is an estimated $550 million.

Wave 59 for FY 2014 will be released Thursday, July 9th. Funding for FY 2014 is available for Priority 1 services only. Priority 2 funding is being denied at all discount levels. Cumulative funding for FY 2014 is $2.23 billion.

Update on USAC’s E-Rate Productivity Center

USAC is just completing the initial roll-out of its new online E-rate portal system, the “E‑rate Productivity Center” or “EPC” (pronounced “Epic”). By today, July 6th, USAC should have sent emails to most applicants, service providers, and consultants, urging them to login to establish their accounts. As indicated in our newsletter of June 22, 2015, the EPC portal will ultimately be used for all electronic E-rate news, contacts, and filings. Most immediately, as discussed in USACs Special Edition News Brief of July 2nd, discussed below, the EPC must now be used by all applicants seeking to file Form 470s for FY 2016. It is important, therefore, for applicants (and their consultants) to get their EPC accounts established as soon as possible.

Additional EPC information is available from USAC and E-Rate Central in:

USAC’s initial EPC login emails were sent to specific individual email addresses as follows:

  • Applicants: The authorized signers of FY 2015 Form 471 applications.
  • Service Providers: General contacts associated with the firms’ Form 498s.
  • Consultants: Contacts associated with the Consultant Registration Numbers (“CRNs”).

To access the system for the first time:

  1. Instructions are included in the email from EPC.Application.Administrator@usac.org.
  2. Enter the username provided in the email message.
  3. Select the “Forgot Password” link on the login screen.
  4. Follow the instructions to “reset” the password.
  5. Click on “Tasks” in the navigation tool bar to agree to the “Terms and Conditions.”  We suggest that you print out the “EPC Access Agreement” because future logins require the acceptance of only an abbreviated version.

Initially, only the individual sent the invitational email can set up a user account. That individual will be the account Administrator. Once the account is established, additional users, with different types of permissions, can be added. Account users may be assigned one of the following four levels of rights:

  1. Only one user can be the account’s main Administrator. If, for example, a school district superintendent signed the FY 2015 application, but is not going to be in charge of the day-to-day E-rate process, the superintendent will have to first establish the account, and add at least one other user who can be reassigned the Administrator function. A consultant cannot be an applicant’s account Administrator.
  2. Full rights give a user the ability to create and submit, sign, and certify forms. Submission of a form includes the electronic signature and certification. PINs will no longer be required for forms submitted through the portal. Note, as a result, that it will no longer be possible to submit a form at one time, and certify it later. This limitation is discussed further below.
  3. Partial rights give a user the ability to create, but not submit, forms.
  4. View-only rights are self-explanatory.

Now for some complicating details:

  1. An individual user is identified in a specific account by a specific email address. If an individual applicant is associated with two or more applicant accounts, for example, different email addresses must be used for each.
    1. An educational service agency (“ESA”) receiving E-rate services for itself and acting as a consortium lead, will require two billed entity numbers (“BENs”), each linked to an EPC portal account.
    2. A service provider, with multiple SPINs, will likewise require multiple EPC portal accounts. Common employees linked to these accounts will require discrete email addresses.
    3. An applicant Form 471 signer, associated with multiple BENs using the same email address, will receive only one EPC invitation to set up an account. To become an Administrator under another BEN contact USAC’s Client Service Bureau (“CSB”). Provide full contact information, including an alternate email address.
  2. An applicant using a consultant should not add the consultant as an applicant user.  Doing so will create a user identity problem (and tie up the consultant’s email address) that at the moment is difficult to correct. To give a consultant access to an applicant account, the applicant’s Administrator must first add the consulting firm. As a second step, the Administrator must authorize a specific consultant (by name and email address). If the consultant is to have more than view-only rights in the account, a third step is necessary to upgrade the account providing full or partial rights to the consultant. For an overview of this entire three-step process, see E-Rate Central’s Illustrated Guide to Adding Consultants to Applicant Accounts. If more than one individual consultant is working with an applicant, each such consultant must be added separately to the applicant’s account.
  3. Applicants, service providers, and consultants who need to set up EPC accounts, but who have not received enabling emails from USAC by today, July 6th, should contact CSB.

E-Rate Updates and Reminders

FCC Appeal Decision Watch:

The FCC issued another set of precedent-based decisions in Public Notice (DA 15-773), including:

  1. Dismissed one petition for reconsideration on the basis that no additional information or arguments had been provided.
  2. Granted requests for review or waivers for:
    1. Twenty-five applicants with late-filed Form 471 applications, most filed within 14 days of the window deadline. The one approval for applications filed more than 14 days late was based on “circumstances beyond the applicant’s control” — in this case involving the apparently involuntary departure of a library director shortly before the window closed, and who left behind neither paper nor electronic E‑rate records.
    2. One applicant for violations of the 28-day competitive bidding rule who had shortened the bid selection period by 1-3 days.
    3. Two applicants needing additional time to submit discount calculation documentation.
  3. Denied requests for review or waivers for:
    1. One applicant failing to demonstrate that price had been the most important factor in vendor selection. In denying the request, the FCC rejected the applicant’s “attempts to adjust its bid evaluation after the fact to reach the same result as it reached without using price as the primary factor...”
    2. One applicant deemed to have filed non-RFP Form 470s, over multiple funding years, with “inadequate specificity” on services requested. This was a serious denial involving roughly $1.0 million in COMADs and $1.8 million in pending funding. Most disturbing was USAC’s and the FCC’s apparent concern about the applicant’s use of “District Wide” as a measure of the quantity and/or capacity of the services needed — a phrase we have seen used repeatedly in Form 470s by various applicants.
    3. All seven applicants requesting invoicing deadline extensions unable to demonstrate “extraordinary circumstances” needed to justify waivers. It should be noted that the invoice extension requests were filed “more than 12 months after the time the petitioners first sought invoice deadline extensions.”
    4. Four applicants for late-filed Form 471 applications not filed within 14 days after the window deadline.
    5. Two applicants for violations of the 28-day competitive bidding rule who had shortened the bid selection period by more than 3 days.

Reply Comments Due on Draft ESL for FY 2016:

Reply comments on the FCC’s Draft Eligible Services List (“ESL”) are due today, July 6th. E‑Rate Central’s reply comments discuss the need for ESL clarifications and/or changes to provide better support for network sustainability.

The “Homework Gap”:

Although E-rate does not support student Internet access from home, the inability of some students to reach the Internet outside of school is of increasing concern. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel addressed this issue in a statement earlier in June, stating:

The Homework Gap is the cruelest part of the new digital divide. Today, too many students without broadband at home are unable to complete basic school assignments. They fall behind in the classroom—and we all lose out when we have a generation ill-prepared to enter the digital economy.

This has become an important issue for Commissioner Rosenworcel. In particular:

  1. Earlier in April, she had highlighted the findings of the Pew Research Group “regarding school-aged children and broadband access at home that is increasingly necessary to complete basic schoolwork.”
  2. Her June statement praised the Digital Learning Equity Act introduced by Senators Angus King (D, ME) and Shelley Moore Capito (R, WV). “The bill would direct the Department of Education to conduct a national study on the Homework Gap and provide for pilot programs to extend access to digital learning opportunities for students when they are outside of the classroom.”  Interestingly, the senatorial duo introducing this bill is the same two-state combination responsible for introducing E-rate decades ago.
  3. She was also one of the three Commissioners who voted in favor of the FCC’s new order and notice of proposed rulemaking (FCC 15-71) to modernize the Lifeline program to make residential broadband more affordable for low-income families (see our newsletter of June 29, 2015).

Schools and Libraries Special Edition News Brief Dated July 2 – Form 470 for FY 2016

The S&L Special Edition News Brief of July 2, 2015, announced the availability of the revised Form 470 for FY 2016. The two most important aspects of this announcement are:

  1. The previous version of the Form 470, defaulting to FY 2015, is no longer useable.
  2. The new version can only be filed online through the new E-Rate Productivity Center (“EPC”) by applicants and/or their consultants who have responded to USAC’s invitational email and have properly set up their accounts (see EPC update information above).

Additionally, the News Brief indicates that:

  1. Filing forms through EPC “provides an enhanced applicant experience and simplifies the application process.”  We hope this will be true, but note that the initial establishment of the portal accounts will require some work. Associated RFPs can be — it is not yet clear if they must be — uploaded into the online form.
  2. All applicants must sign and certify the Form 470 online before it is posted to the USAC website. This could create a critical time problem if the signer is not available when the Form 470 is otherwise ready to be filed — particularly if the applicant is trying to time the posting of the Form 470 to coincide with the release of an RFP. In the past, a Form 470 could be submitted online, and certified later. With the new portal version, both the submission of the basic Form 470 and the certification must be done at the same time.
  3. Form 470 receipt notifications will appear in the applicant EPC News feeds immediately after the forms have been filed. Form 470 Receipt Notification Letters (“RNLs”) will no longer be issued in paper form.
  4. Service providers will be able to view Form 470s either through their own EPC accounts or through the USAC website as usual.
  5. “FY 2015” Form 470s for FY 2016 previously filed using the earlier online system are still available for viewing (or certification) on the USAC website as in the past.
Disclaimer: This newsletter may contain unofficial information on prospective E-rate developments and/or may reflect our own interpretations of E-rate practices and regulations. Such information is provided for planning and guidance purposes only. It is not meant, in any way, to supplant official announcements and instructions provided by either the SLD or the FCC.