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E-Rate Central News for the Week
February 8, 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 36 for FY 2015 will be released on Thursday, February 11th. Funding for FY 2015 is available for both Category 1 and Category 2 services at all discount levels. Cumulative funding for FY 2015 is $2.99 billion.

Wave 76 for FY 2014 will be released on Friday, February 12th. 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

FY 2016 Application Window Opened February 3rd:

USAC opened the FY 2016 Form 471 application window on Wednesday, February 3rd. The window is scheduled to close on April 29th. In concert with the opening of the Form 471 window, numerous other related changes were implemented within EPC and on USAC’s website. The following points, discussed in more detail below, should be noted:

  1. EPC, in its entirety, is a new system and is still under development. The new changes introduced last week contained system bugs already identified and being corrected. Additional system enhancements are scheduled in the near term. Recent and future changes are two of the reasons that the initial window period was set at 87 days, longer than usual.
  2. Training on the EPC system, and particularly on all aspects of the Form 471 process, will be critical. Use of the system involves a steep learning curve. Applicants cannot wait until the end of the window period to begin learning the EPC system. To begin, see the Special Edition News Brief released last Wednesday when the window opened. New USAC webinars have been announced and will be tracked weekly in the Updates and Reminders section of our newsletters. A new USAC application filing blog is referenced and discussed below in connection with last Friday’s News Brief.

The entire application process — particularly for large school districts, library systems, and consortia — can be overwhelming. We’ll cover some of the basics in this newsletter; there will be plenty of additional information to add in future issues. The most detailed USAC document available on the entire process is the 99-page PDF entitled “Filing the FCC Form 417.”

Form 471 Access in EPC:

Before even starting a Form 471 itself, it is important to recognize that the new EPC application process requires an applicant (depending upon applicant type) to complete and/or update (a) school enrollment and student eligibility data, (b) school and library connectivity data, and/or (c) applicant contract information. Last week’s additions to the EPC system include an upload function for student data and additional profile sections for connectivity and contracts. These additions, plus the Form 471 itself, can be accessed from the basic applicant page using the “Related Actions” link in the left-hand list of activities. Among the “Related Actions” are:

           

The Form 471 portion of the application process is primarily related to the creation of individual funding requests. Creation of an FRN is a two-step process. First you create the basic FRN, then you add the line item detail.

Basic FRNs can be completed:

  • Manually
  • Uploaded using a specific service type template. See:

                

  • By copying a previous FRN (from a FY 2016 application only)

Switching to the second step to add line item detail takes some care. The basic FRN data shows up in a line above a bright green button labeled “Add FRN.”  Do NOT click this button.

Instead, use the grayed-out button to the left labeled “Manage FRN Line Items.”  A template to manage entities on a line-item basis is not currently available, but may be in March.

School NSLP Profiles:

All discount rates within EPC are based on NSLP (or equivalent) data provided by individual schools or school districts. Libraries and consortia rely on this data to complete their applications. If the school information is incomplete, that school or district cannot be referenced by a library or consortium. If the information is complete, but out-of-date, a library or consortium can complete its application, but may be subject to a retroactive discount rate adjustment. We expect some awkward situations to arise as the window progresses.

School NSLP data can be added or updated manually or by uploading an entity profile template. Current entity NSLP data can be viewed by looking at the school’s “Organization Details.”  To update the information manually, click on the “Manage Organization” button in the upper right-hand corner. Bulk updates can be done using the “Upload Entity Profile Data” link accessed via the “Related Actions” page referenced above.

Note that the subtitle to this link refers to your “child schools details.”  This somewhat confusing language refers to the parent/child relationship of a district (parent) to its schools (children). Enrollment and NSLP data is reported by school, then aggregated for the district.

School and Library Connectivity Profiles:

School and library connectivity data must be provided using the “Manage Connectivity Questions” link, also accessed via the “Related Actions” page. For school districts and library systems, there are separate questions for aggregate Internet service. For these questions, the information requested refers to Internet bandwidth. The requested information for individual schools and libraries is for circuit bandwidth.

There is no template available to upload connectivity data, nor is one expected this year. This data must be entered manually for each school and library — a lengthy task for a large multi-entity applicant. The good news for consortia is that the connectivity data for their members is not their responsibility and that the absence of connectivity data will not hold up consortium applications.

Applicant Contract Profiles:

Information on contracts referenced in Form 471 FRNs, including multi-year contracts dating to earlier years, must be entered into an applicant’s profile using the “Manage Contracts” link, also accessed via the “Related Actions” page. For application review purposes, copies of those contracts may be uploaded into EPC. Note that one field in the contract profile requires the number of bids received during the contract procurement process.

No template is available to upload the basic contract information.

Category 2 Budget Tracking Tool for FY 2015:

One new feature added to the USAC website last week — related to, but not within EPC itself — is a Category 2 Budget Lookup Tool (shortly to be listed as a Form 471 Search Tool). The tool permits searches for FY 2015 budgets and funding.  For each entity found, the search results show the total 5-year pre-discount budget, the total commitment, and the remaining balance. Based on limited testing, we note the following:

  1. Searches must be done by individual entity numbers (up to 200, separated by commas). Districts, library systems, and consortia must list their entities separately.
  2. Entities with no Category 2 funding requests for FY 2015, including ineligible NIFs, generate a “No budget found” condition.

The most important point to remember is that this tool reports budget data only for FY 2015. Applicants applying for Category 2 for FY 2016 within EPC will see budget calculations based only on total student counts or library square-footage — NOT net of any funds committed in FY 2015. Applicants applying for Category 2 funding in both FY 2015 and FY 2016 will have to calculate actual FY 2016 entity budgets themselves.

E-Rate Updates and Reminders

USAC EPC Webinars:

USAC has scheduled the following series of webinars on the EPC Form 471 filing process, preceded by a set of more general sessions for beginners. Note that there are two choices for dates for the more advanced webinars. Registration is available now on the Trainings & Outreach page on the USAC website.

Webinars for beginners:

  • E-rate 101: Introduction to the E-rate Program: February 16th at 3:00 p.m. EST
  • E-rate Program Application Process, Part 1 (FCC Forms 470 and 471): February 17th at 3:00 p.m. EST
  • E-rate Program Application Process, Part 2 (PIA and Invoicing): February 18th at 3:00 p.m. EST

Webinars for all FCC Form 471 filers (times subject to change):

  • How to Complete Basic and Entity Information to Prepare for Filing FCC Form 471: February 23rd and February 25th
    • Schools and school districts at 1:00 p.m. EST
    • Libraries and library systems at 2:30 p.m. EST
    • Consortia at 4:00 p.m. EST
  • How to Complete Category 1 Funding Requests on FCC Form 471: March 1st and March 3rd at 1:00 p.m. EST
  • How to Complete Category 2 Funding Requests on FCC Form 471: March 1st and March 3rd at 2:30 p.m. EST
  • How to Understand and Complete the Certifications Section, and Complete FCC Form 471: March 8th and March 10th at 1:00 p.m. EST

GAO Report on Tribal Internet Access:

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released a report entitled, and calling for, “Additional Coordination and Performance Measurement Needed for High-Speed Internet Access Programs on Tribal Lands.”  Among its recommendations, the GAO report cited the need to:

  • Develop performance goals and measures for improving broadband availability to tribal schools and libraries; and
  • Improve the reliability of FCC data related to institutions that receive E-rate funding by defining “tribal” on the program application.

Form 486 Deadlines for February:

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 February deadlines (adjusted for weekends and holidays) for approved FY 2015 applications are:
                                          Wave 21                02/16/2016
                                          Wave 22                02/19/2016
                                          Wave 23                02/26/2016

Schools and Libraries News Brief Dated February 5 – “File Along with Me” and Tips

The S&L News Brief of February 5, 2016, announces a new blog USAC has developed, “File Along with Me,” to provide additional information on the application process. You can subscribe to the blog by entering your e-mail address on the blog’s home page, and then confirming the resulting email. The initial blog posts, listed below, are introductory in nature, but will become more detailed and useful over time.
 Post No.   Topic

  1. Welcome to USAC’s New Blog: File Along with Me
  2. What to Expect from File Along with Me
  3. The Importance of Applying During the “Filing Window”
  4. Bird’s Eye View of the Application Process

The News Brief also provides the following Form 471 filing tips:

  1. Sign out of your current session in EPC if you are finished. Simply closing the browser does not end the session, and there is a limit to the number of open sessions.
  2. Get an FCC Registration Number if you don’t already have one. This is a different identification number than the USAC entity numbers required to identify schools and libraries for E-rate purposes. Only one FCC RN is required per applicant (although EPC includes FCC RN fields for each school and library).
  3. Go to your “Tasks” tab to retrieve a form you have started but did not finish.
  4. When completing the cost information for a Form 471 funding request, provide an entry (even if it’s “0”) in every field.
  5. When a funding request asks for the number of users, enter the number of lines or circuits. (Note: We view this tip as part of a new debugging concept — “reprogram the users, not the system.”)

Early this week USAC expects to activate an EPC training site that applicants can use to practice navigating through the portal and the filing of forms. Even experienced E-rate users will often find it useful to try out aspects of the new portal without actually altering information in their own active EPC accounts. When available, requests for training login email addresses and passwords may be made to USAC from the Trainings & Outreach page on the USAC website.

 

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.