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E-Rate Central News for the Week
March 21, 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 42 for FY 2015 will be released on Thursday, March 24th. Funding for FY 2015 is available for both Category 1 and Category 2 services at all discount levels. Cumulative funding for FY 2015 is $3.14 billion.

Updates on USAC’s E-Rate Productivity Center

Library vs. Library System:

There appears to be considerable confusion within the library community with respect to applicant type and application structure required by EPC. The confusion can be traced to several factors, including:

  1. EPC enforces strict parent-child (and consortium) relationships that were not well defined or enforced within the Form 471 application process in previous years.
  2. USAC’s current use of the terms “library system” and “library” often varies widely from the library community’s use of “library system,” “library,” “library branch,” or even “library outlet.”
  3. The official status of special library entities, such as bookmobiles, varies by state.

Perhaps the easiest way to consider library types for E-rate purposes is to consider the analogous school types. A “library system” is like a school district. Just like a district, a library system acts as the “parent” organization for its various “children” — perhaps a main library and several smaller branches. Typically, in this case, the library system is administered out of the main library. The system would have a Billed Entity Number (“BEN”), and the main library and the other branches would have their own Site Entity Numbers (“SENs,” sometime just referred to as “entity numbers”).

A standalone, single-site library would operate like an independent school. Essentially, it would be its own “parent” and would have its own BEN.

More confusing is that an organization, typically called a “library system” (or “library cooperative”) by librarians, is not defined as a system by USAC. Such an organization is often not a library in the traditional sense, but it does provide a variety of regional support services for a number of separate member libraries (with or without branches). The school equivalent, based on the types of services offered, is a regional Educational Service Agency (“ESA”).

Bear with us on this. For E-rate purposes, there are two types of ESAs. An ESA with schools of its own is considered a school district. An ESA without its own schools is — drumroll please! — a new type of E-rate entity, just now being introduced by USAC, called (perhaps not surprisingly) an “ESA without schools.”  This newly designated type of ESA is eligible to receive discounted Category 1 services. Its discount is based on the eligibility of the total number of students in its member districts.

There is currently no library equivalent to an ESA without schools. As stated above, library system or cooperative, as a provider of library services, but without its own libraries, is not a library “system” according to USAC. That leaves two E-rate options. The system could be:

  1. A library, eligible for discounts on its own services, if so considered by its state — a strong possibility if it is eligible for LSTA funding; and/or
  2. A library consortia filing for discounts on behalf of its member libraries (or library systems).

One more potential source of confusion, new to E-rate this year, is an “annex.”  In the school world, an annex is an instructional site, which is not defined as a “school” within its state, and which is not located on the same campus of its main school. For both Category 2 budget and discount rate purposes, a school annex is considered part of its associated school.

In the library world, a library annex would be a site which is providing lending and/or research facilities to the public, but which is not itself considered a separate “library” by its state. As with a school annex, it too would share the Category 2 budget of its associated library.

A bookmobile is yet another interesting special case. Depending upon how they are defined by the state library agency (or state statute), for E-rate purposes a bookmobile can be considered either an annex or a separate library outlet.

EPC may require libraries to review what they have done in the past regarding application type, and to make any necessary changes to accommodate USAC’s new EPC definitions. Libraries with questions on their status may want to contact their state library agency for more information. Contact information for State Library E-rate Coordinators can be found on our State Information pages or from the American Library Association’s (“ALA”) E‑rate site.

Contract Profile Review, Upload, and Submission:

Information on any contracts cited in a Form 471 must be pre-populated in the contract profile section of each applicant’s EPC account. To add contract information — and, optionally, to upload copies of contracts — click on “Related Actions” in the left-hand activities column, then select:
EPC Manage Contacts

The “Manage Contract” function has two pull-down menu options,
EPC Manage Contract
EPC Manage Contract Drafts

Under either option, a user will see a list of contracts in that mode, and will be given an option to “Add a New Contract.”  The distinction between a draft contract and one that has been submitted, however, is critical. In draft mode, information on a specific contract can be added, modified, or deleted. Once contract information is “Submitted,” it is there to stay.

We recommend entering contract data and keeping it in draft mode until needed as a reference in the FRN portion of a Form 471. At that point, check the draft contract, click the “Edit” button, and step through the ten pages using the “Save & Continue” button until reaching the final summary page. To submit, click the green “Complete” button.

The second page of contract information — available only in the draft mode — provides the user with the option of uploading a copy of the contract into EPC. Although not required, the advantages to uploading contracts are that (a) it may save time during the PIA review process, and (b) it provides an online backup for document retention purposes.

Hopefully, EPC will ultimately permit applicants to update contract information and/or upload actual contracts post submission. For now, however, it’s best to keep contracts in draft mode until needed which, given the impending Form 471 deadline, is not much longer.

Large Applicant Connectivity Profile Option:

EPC requires every non-consortium applicant to manually complete a connectivity profile for each school or library before filing a Form 471. Each connectivity profile has 7 data or pulldown fields. For smaller applicants, this is not much of a burden. For large applicants, the process is time-consuming. At best, using the keyboarding tip discussed in our newsletter of March 7th, each entity profile requires two mouse clicks and 13 key strokes before moving to the next entity. There is no upload template.

Last week, apparently after fielding complaints from large applicants, USAC issued a Special Edition News Brief offering to do the data entry for large applicants (those with 50 or more entities). As USAC’s announcement indicates, this is an “extraordinary measure.”  We would agree.

To utilize this option, larger applicants must complete a Connectivity Questions Worksheet, and email it to USAC by April 4th. “USAC will ensure the data is entered into the system on your behalf and notify you when the process is complete” — presumably in time to meet the application deadline. For those interested and qualifying for this option, we would recommend not being last in line.

E-Rate Updates and Reminders

FY 2016 Application Window is Open:

The Form 471 application window for FY 2016 opened on February 3rd. The window is scheduled to close at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29, 2016. The entire application process for FY 2016 is being handled through USAC’s new EPC portal with its own learning curve. Please do not wait until later in the window to file Form 470s, update pre-471 EPC applicant profile information (entity, student, connectivity, and contract data), and begin the Form 471.

The last possible day to file a valid Form 470 for FY 2016 is April 1st. As we pointed out last week, this deadline is on April Fool’s Day. Don’t be one!  If you wait until then, you will have to pick your vendors, sign contracts, and complete and submit your Form 471 application on the last day of the window. With this year’s EPC filing complexities, this is a recipe for disaster.

File Along with Me Updates:

A USAC blog, “File Along with Me,” initiated in early February, provides additional information on the application process. Links to last week’s postings are provided below. You can subscribe to the blog by entering your e-mail address on the blog’s home page (under the USAC logo), and confirming the resulting email.
Post No.    Title

  1.         Calculate Your E-Rate Discount: School District or School
  2.         Calculate Your E-Rate Discount: Library or Library System

Middletown CPN Waiver Comments:

As discussed in our two previous newsletters, the Enlarged City School District of Middletown (NY) has filed a petition for a limited waiver of the FCC’s rules, which prohibit terminating carriers from passing the calling party number (CPN) to the called party where a privacy indicator has been triggered by the caller. Strictly enforced, CPN rules prevent schools and law enforcement agencies from identifying the source of threatening calls in a timely manner.

Public comments on Middletown’s petition (DA 16-234), due last week, were sparse. The waiver was supported by several Middletown parents and by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).   Comments filed by E-Rate Central, not only supported Middletown’s specific waiver, but encouraged the FCC to amend its CPN privacy rules to provide similar flexible responses for all primary and secondary schools. Reply comments are due this week by March 23rd.

FBI-Led E-Rate Investigation in New York:

Various press accounts last week (see example) describe an extensive E-rate investigation effort by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies — reportedly upwards of 300 agents with 22 search warrants — involving selected parochial schools and/or their service providers in the downstate New York area. Although the FBI would not comment, it appears that this investigation has been underway for several years. With respect to one supplier and several schools rumored to be part of the investigation, for example, we note that applications have not been funded, or invoices have not been paid for, on or after FY 2012. As more details become available, the full extent of the investigation should become clearer.

Form 486 Deadlines for March:

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 March deadlines (adjusted for weekends and holidays) for approved FY 2015 applications are:
                                          Wave 26                03/21/2016
                                          Wave 27                03/29/2016

Schools and Libraries News Brief Dated March 18 – Common EPC Questions, Part 5

The S&L News Brief of March 18, 2016, continues a series of EPC Q&As begun last month. The new questions are:

  1. I want to apply for Category One services on my FCC Form 470, and I'm not sure which Function to choose from the dropdown list. Can you help?  Short answer: See the service explanations included in the News Brief table.

    Note: One important distinction to be made is between cellular data plans and cellular voice service. Most cellular users subscribe to bundled voice and data services, but, for E-rate purposes, only the voice portion (typically about 50% of the cost) is eligible. In this case, choose “Cellular Voice” as the function. Picking “Cellular Data Plan/Air Card Service” implies that the applicant is seeking E-rate support for the use of cellular data within its buildings as an alternative to a traditional WiFi system. This will require making a difficult argument that cellular is more cost-effective than WiFi.
  2. Please provide some examples of situations where schools or libraries would make the above choices. Short explanation: the News Brief provides separate, but virtually identical, explanations for schools and libraries.
  3. I have already filed my FCC Form 470. Based on the information above, I believe that I chose the wrong dropdown. What should I do?  Short answer:  The News Brief focuses primarily on correcting or clarifying information on an RFP-version of a Form 470. The safest bet for dealing with a misleading non-RFP Form 470 is to file a new one — and there is little time left.
  4. I updated my list of related entities before I filed my FCC Form 470, but the final version of the form shows an entity count of zero. What can I do?  Short answer:  This is an EPC system bug and is being corrected.
  5. I can't find my entity number in the BEN Search Tool. How can I locate it?  Short answer:  USAC’s traditional Billed Entity Search Tool has not been updated to include newly assigned entity numbers (eight digits beginning with “17”). Instead, use the EPC entity search function found under the “Records” tab.
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.