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E-Rate Central News for the Week
January 18, 2016

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 33 for FY 2015 will be released on Friday, January 22nd.  Funding for FY 2015 is available for both Category 1 and Category 2 services at all discount levels.  As of Wave 32, cumulative funding for FY 2015 was $2.91 billion.

Wave 74 for FY 2014 will be released on Thursday, January 21st. Funding for FY 2014 is available for Priority 1 services only.  Priority 2 funding has been denied at all discount levels.  Cumulative funding for FY 2014 is $2.28 billion.

Updates on USAC’s E-Rate Productivity Center

Pre-Application Planning for FY 2016:

USAC has not opened the application window for FY 2016, nor has it yet released the new EPC version of the Form 471.  Both are expected to occur concurrently by the end of the month.  Preview Form 471 information suggests that major changes are expected, and that there are steps applicants can take now to get a start on the application process.

The most significant change will be that much of the data, previously required in the Form 471 itself, must henceforth be included in the applicant’s EPC account profile.  There is some good and some bad news in this change.

•  Good news: The Form 471 itself will require less information.
•  Bad news: Much more information must be entered into each non-consortium EPC account before a Form 471 can be completed.
•  Good news (2): In the future, additional EPC account information can be entered and/or updated well before the Form 471 application window opens.

The application process for FY 2016 is expected to be more difficult than usual.  Anything an applicant can do in advance of the opening of the window, or before starting a Form 471 during the window, is encouraged. The following sections focus on application-related EPC profile areas.

            School District and Library System Entity Profiles:

Much of the information associated with schools (and NIFs) in each school district, and branches associated with each library system, was pre-loaded into EPC based on FY 2015 applications.  For the most part, therefore, existing schools and library branches should already be in their appropriate EPC account profiles. Larger district and system applicants, in particular, should check for entity accuracy to ensure the correct discount rate calculations in Form 471s.  The following points should be noted:

  1. Adding or deleting entities to a school district or library system EPC account can only be done by submitting a customer service request to the Client Service Bureau (“CSB”). Corrections can take some time.
  2. Parent-child relationships are critical within EPC (see our newsletter of January 11th). Only schools and libraries, so designated by the state, should be listed as entities.
  3. Other instructional locations, such as a second site for a single school, are now considered “annexes.”  An annex can be added within EPC by starting at the primary entity page, and clicking on “Annexes” in the left-hand activities list.  Under EPC, an annex does not have an entity number, but remains associated with its primary location’s entity number.  Presumably — additional USAC guidance on annexes is expected — existing entity numbers currently assigned to annex locations will need to be eliminated from EPC accounts.
  4. Applicants should carefully check names (and spelling) of all listed entities.  Entity validation during PIA is much easier if school and library names used in E-rate correspond with the names recognized by their state education and library departments.

            Consortium Membership Profiles:

Consortia should review their membership lists.  Missing members should be added.  This can be done within EPC as long as the missing entity is listed in EPC (search “Applicant Entities” under the “Records” tab).  If an entity is not listed in EPC, it will be necessary to work with the member and CSB to get it added.  Even if an entity is listed in EPC, the entity’s EPC account may not yet have been activated.  Until that happens, that member’s account information cannot be updated (e.g., with NSLP data).

“Extra” members are also a possibility.  This can occur because EPC gives individual applicants the ability to add themselves to a consortium without the consortium’s approval, and we do not see a way within EPC for a consortium to delete old or unauthorized members.  For Form 471 purposes, this is not necessarily a problem.  A consortium will be able to select a subset of members for any given Form 471. Assuming, however, that there is a “select all” option, its convenience would be limited if “extra” consortium members were included.

            School and School District Discount Rate Profiles:

NSLP data for schools will be drawn into the Form 471 (i.e., not entered into the Form 471 itself) from the school profiles.  This means that schools and school districts can begin to update NSLP data now.  There are two approaches.

  1. Entity NSLP data can be updated entity-by-entity in EPC.  To do so, from any entity profile page, click “Related Activities,” and then “Manage Organization.”  Once the NSLP data is updated, click “Submit.”  Note that every field marked with a red “*” must be completed before completing the update.  The “Email” field, which will eventually be removed, can be completed with any email address.  After each update, the user will be asked to enter a “Modification Nickname.”  Using a short description of the change as the “nickname” will be a good way to track profile updates.
  2. An NSLP upload template is expected to become available when the Form 471 window opens.  A format for the template has not been announced, but it is expected to be similar to the Block 4 upload template used last year.  Applicants who used the FY 2015 template and who update it with FY 2016 NSLP data should be well ahead of the game.

            School and Library Connectivity Profiles:

Similar to discount rate data, broadband connectivity information (line speed and type), will need to be entered and maintained within the individual entity profiles.  Although not in the Form 471 itself, (as was the case in FY 2015), this connectivity information must apparently be provided before the Form 471 is completed.

A section to add connectivity information into EPC entity profiles is not expected to be ready until the window opens, but USAC has provided the following preliminary view:

E-rate connectivity questions

On an entity-by-entity basis, this shouldn’t be a very difficult section to complete (although USAC may have to better define the phrase “total bandwidth speed from this location”).

Because no upload connectivity template is planned, completing this step could take some time for large school districts or library systems tasked with entering data for each entity.  At a minimum, collecting this information ahead of time would be advisable.

            Applicant Contract Profiles:

Most contract information to be cited in a Form 471 must be entered in applicant EPC profiles in order to complete contract-based FRNs within the application itself.  As with the connectivity section, the contract section of the profile will not be available until the window opens.  Again, no upload template is expected to assist applicants with numerous contracts.  As such, applicants are advised to start collecting and consolidating contract information in their own spreadsheets.  The following is a preliminary example of the contract section of an applicant profile as it will be made available during the FRN-creation stage of the Form 471:

E-rate application profiles

Detailed contract information required includes:

  • Contract number
  • Establishing Form 470 number
  • Expiration date, including information on voluntary extensions
  • Service start date
  • Account number (if applicable)
  • Service provider
  • Pricing confidentiality (and specific rule, statute, or restriction if applicable)

Applicants will be given the option, but will not be required, to upload copies of the actual contracts into EPC.  Uploading contracts may save time during PIA review.

            Applicant Bid Information:

The Form 471 for FY 2016 will require applicants to report the number of bids received for every contract, tariff, or MTM service.  As always, this means keeping track of all bids during the current Form 470 procurement process.  The bid information requirement also applies to FRNs referencing multi-year contracts procured during earlier funding years.  This information should be collected and maintained as a part of an applicant’s own contract spreadsheet.

Internet Explorer Support:

USAC’s most recent News Brief discussed below also notes that vendor support for Internet Explorer 8 ended earlier this month, and that users accessing EPC through Internet Explorer should use version 9 or higher.  Remember that EPC also supports access via Chrome and Firefox.  Anyone experiencing EPC access problems with one browser should try another.

E-Rate Updates and Reminders

FCC Broadband Progress Report:

FCC Chairman Wheeler has released a draft of the 2016 Broadband Progress Report scheduled to be considered at the FCC’s next open meeting on January 28th.  Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC is required “to determine whether ‘advanced telecommunications capability’ — broadband — is being deployed to all Americans in a ‘reasonable and timely fashion.’  If the answer is negative” — as the Chairman’s draft concludes — “the Act requires the FCC to ‘take immediate action’ to speed deployment.”

As an indication of progress, the Chairman notes that:  “Following modernization of the E-rate program to better support fiber and Wi-Fi in schools and libraries, the FCC has issued more than $2.8 billion in funding commitments, including $1 billion for broadband connections of 100 Mbps and higher, and $1.1 billion for Wi-Fi for Funding Year 2015.”

However, E-rate is also one of five factors cited in the Chairman’s negative conclusion, noting:

  • 41 percent of schools have not met the Commission’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff.
    • These schools educate 47 percent of the nation’s students,
    • Only 9 percent of schools have fiber connections capable of meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students

Notably, the Chairman’s draft does not include recommendations for “immediate action” should the Commissioners agree that deployment is lagging.  On the E-rate front, the FCC might decide that its recent action to make $5.8 billion available for FY 2016 is sufficiently proactive (see our newsletter of December 28, 2015).

Form 486 Deadlines for January:

The Form 486 deadline for certifying the start of service (and CIPA compliance, if applicable) is 120 days from the later of the FCDL approval date or the start of service date.  The remaining January deadlines (adjusted to Monday when the 120-day deadline falls on a Saturday) for approved FY 2015 applications are:
                                          Wave 17                01/18/2016
                                          Wave 18                01/25/2016
                                          Wave 19                01/29/2016

Invoice Deadline for FY 2014 NRCs:

The invoice deadline for non-recurring charges (“NRCs”) is January 28, 2016 (i.e., 120 days after September 30, 2015, the last date to receive such services for FY 2014). Because Priority 2 services were not funded at any discount level for FY 2014, this invoice deadline applies only to installation-like charges for Priority 1 services.  Requests to USAC to extend this invoice deadline must be made by January 28th, the deadline itself.

Schools and Libraries News Brief Dated January 15 – Appeals

The S&L News Brief of January 15, 2016 discusses appeals and waivers.  It notes that all appeals of USAC decisions must be filed first with USAC (then, if denied, appealed to the FCC), but that all requests for rule waivers (e.g., filing deadlines) can be made only to the FCC.

The News Brief provides filing information and the following tips for those filing appeals:

  • Mark your submission as an appeal.
  • Identify yourself.
  • Specify the USAC decision you are appealing.
  • Address all of the issues USAC identified as denial reasons if you are appealing a funding decision.
  • State briefly, but precisely, why you feel that the USAC decision is incorrect.
  • Note any other information that should be reviewed.
  • Retain all documentation.
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.