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E-Rate Central News for the Week
May 23, 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

FY 2016:

The revised filing deadline for FY 2016 applications is 11:59 p.m. EDT on Thursday, May 26th.  PIA application review for FY 2016 is underway.  The first funding wave for FY 2016 should be released in early June.

To facilitate the application process over these last few days, USAC’s Client Service Bureau (“CSB”) is open 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. EDT Monday–Wednesday, and 8:00 p.m. through the close of the window on Thursday.

Libraries and consortia, whose applications depend on the completion of related school district data, have been granted an additional eight-week extension to July 21st.  As a result of the latter Form 471 deadline extension, the last possible date for libraries and consortia to file Form 470s for FY 2016 is June 23rd.

FY 2015:

Wave 51 for FY 2015 will be released on Thursday, May 26th.  Funding for FY 2015 is available for both Category 1 and Category 2 services at all discount levels.  Cumulative funding for FY 2015 is $3.28 billion.

Updates on USAC’s E-Rate Productivity Center

Update on PIA Inquiries:

The PIA inquiry process is evolving.  This article discusses the two basic aspects of PIA review as currently implemented within EPC.  Stay tuned for future changes.

Finding PIA Inquiries:

One early and welcome change in the PIA process is the way in which an applicant is notified of pending inquiries.  The initial email notification system, as discussed in our previous newsletter, was to direct the applicant to the News tab within EPC to find the inquiry notice, then to use that EPC notice to link to the actual inquiries.  As one applicant put it, this process of finding application questions had all the characteristics of a scavenger hunt.

A new PIA inquiry email process, following an EPC upgrade last Monday night, is much better.  Most importantly, as shown below, emails now provide a direct EPC link to the questions.

E-Rate Application Information Request

Note: Some applicants are reporting receiving similar looking PIA emails, but not finding any “Pending Inquiries” when clicking on the link.  This appears to be occurring further into the review process when the reviewer accepts an application modification, and the system generates an automatic, but unspecified, “confirmation.”

Responding to PIA Inquiries:

Finding a PIA inquiry is one thing.  Responding to it is another, as last week’s experiences demonstrated.

The first problem is not being able to easily contact a reviewer to clarify questions or to even understand the basic response process itself.  The text of the email invites the applicant to contact the reviewer “via EPC” if there are any questions regarding the inquiry.  That’s not easy — at least at present — because there is no mechanism within EPC to contact a specific reviewer.  As an alternative, applicants should try calling or emailing.

  1. Reviewers in some cases (as in the example above) provide their telephone numbers.
  2. The instructions indicate “Do not respond to this e-mail.”  That is because the email is generated from USAC’s email portal address, not directly from the reviewer.  Often, the reviewer’s email address is appended to the reviewer’s name on the first line.  If not, the reviewer’s email address almost always is in the format: first name, period, last name, @sl.universalservice.org.

A second problem is that responses to individual questions are constrained by simple, often “Yes/No,” menus.  Currently, there are no textual comment fields.  If an explanation is required, we suggest typing it into a text file and uploading the file (an option provided for most questions).

A third problem arises if there is more than one question.  There is currently no way to respond separately to multiple questions.  If you’re working on questions progressively, use the “Save and Share” feature along the way.  Do NOT use the “Submit” button until you’re ready to respond to all questions.  “Submit” will send both completed and blank answers to the reviewer.

We’ll discuss other aspects of PIA responses in future newsletters.

Customizing Your News Feed:

Users of the EPC “News” feed may have noticed that there are just too many news items being displayed.  To make the “News” feature more useful, it’s time for a little spring cleaning.

The key point to understand is that there are different categories of news.  As a new EPC account holder, the EPC system automatically subscribes you to all categories of news.  This is dangerous because it means that you may not notice important correspondence such as Receipt Acknowledgement Letters (RALs”) and PIA inquiry notices amongst all the clutter.  Decluttering is vital to your success (and sanity). 

There are two basic approaches to customizing your own “News” feed.

The quickest fix is to find a news article that is not relevant to you, and unsubscribe from the entire category.  Many applicants, for example, find RFP postings to be useless.  There is a trick to getting rid of this category, as shown in the example below.

EPC Customizing News Feed

Just at the tip of the green arrow, there is a little orange box with a white “X” inside.  Most of the time, it’s invisible.  It becomes visible only when your mouse hovers over the upper right-hand corner of the news item in question.  Clicking this “X-out” box allows you to unsubscribe from that news category.  As a check, EPC will ask you to confirm that you intend to remove this category from your “News”.

EPC Bews Feed

The second approach to decluttering your “News” feed is to set it up category-by-category.  You can block certain categories, or you can request to see all or only personalized news items in selected categories.  To do this, pull down the menu next to your name in the upper right-hand corner of your screen, select “Settings,” then “News.”

EPC                  EPC News

This will bring up a menu of available “News” feeds.  Under each category, there is an option to “Unsubscribe.”  If, for a given category, you’ve already unsubscribed, the option line changes to allow you to re-subscribe to either “All” or “Personalized” news in that category.

EPC Access Management

Uproar over the FCC’s IDER Decision

Several weeks ago, the FCC issued a strongly-worded decision (DA 16-448) denying Invoice Deadline Extension Requests (“IDERs”) to over 120 applicants (see our newsletter of May 2nd).  The apparent basis for the decision was the first E-rate Modernization Order (FCC 14-99) which, along with more notable changes, gave USAC the authority to grant one 120-day automatic IDER to any applicant that asked.  In return, the FCC Order indicated that, barring extraordinary circumstances, such an applicant would not be granted a second IDER.  At the time, this seemed to be a somewhat reasonable trade-off to assure that committed funds did not remain unused, but available, for long periods of time.  The first invoice deadline to which the new rules applied was for FY 2014 recurring services, October 28, 2015. 

What was striking about April’s FCC denials is that the applicants affected were not seeking a second IDER.  They were seeking a first! Their mistake had been that they had missed the deadline for submitting an initial IDER.  Under another FCC rule, the original invoice deadline is also the deadline for requesting an IDER.  Some of the applicants denied extensions had missed the IDER deadline by as little as a day.

Reactions to the FCC’s denials by both affected applicants and E-rate organizations have been vociferous.  A number of Petitions for Reconsideration have been filed, and more are expected before the 30-day petition deadline of May 25th.   One of the most important Petitions for Reconsideration was filed by the State E-Rate Coordinators’ Alliance (“SECA”).  SECA’s petition asks the FCC to grant a 120-day invoice filing extension for all the affected applicants, and to provide to provide a similar extension for all other applicants whose similar FCC requests are still pending.

More broadly, the SECA petition asks the FCC to institute a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make permanent revisions to the invoice deadline regulation, including:

  • Implementation of a 45-day reminder in advance of the impending invoice deadline for each FRN for which no funds have been invoiced yet.
  • Implementation of a reminder for any FRN for which no funds have been authorized for disbursement as of the original invoice deadline, and provision of a 30-day grace period for the invoice to be submitted and to be considered timely submitted.
  • Direct USAC to automatically extend the invoice deadline by 120 days for any timely submitted invoice that was “zero paid”, to allow for the invoice to be resubmitted.

SECA’s rulemaking request was strongly supported by the E-Rate Management Professionals Association (“E-MPA®”).  E-MPA’s petition focuses on the current dichotomy in the way E-rate rules and procedures are structured and enforced with regard to:

  • The funding commitment side of E-rate, under which the FCC has, within limits, traditionally granted waivers of late-filed Form 471s, and has had USAC implement warnings and extensions for late-filed Form 486s; versus
  • The funding disbursement side of E-rate, which, as evidenced by the recent IDER denials, establishes a single drop-dead date for invoices.

We believe that the SECA petition represents an important turning point for the FCC.  As indicated in the E-MPA petition, the “Commission can opt for either an applicant-friendly E-rate program or a penalty-driven E-rate program.”  Hopefully, this will not be a difficult choice.

E-Rate Updates and Reminders

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 posting are provided below.  You can subscribe to the blog by entering your email address on the blog’s home page (under the USAC logo), and confirming the resulting email.

Post No.    Title

  1.       How To Make Minor Changes To Your Funding Request: Ministerial and Clerical Errors
  2.       Cardinal Changes: Changes You Can't Make

Form 486 Deadlines for May-June:

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 deadlines for June and the remainder of May (adjusted for weekends and holidays) for approved FY 2015 applications are:

                           Wave 33                05/23/2016
                           Wave 34                05/27/2016
                           Wave 35                06/03/2016
                           Wave 36                06/10/2016
                           Wave 37                06/21/2016
                           Wave 38                06/27/2016

Schools and Libraries News Brief Dated May 20 – Direct Payment BEARs

The S&L News Brief of May 20, 2016, reminds applicants that the BEAR reimbursement process is changing on July 1, 2016.  BEARs submitted on or after that date — including BEARs for FY 2015 — will be paid directly to the applicants.  No longer will BEARs have to be acknowledged by the service providers before submission.

The one initial downside of this change is that, to receive direct BEAR payments, applicants will first have to file a Form 498 through EPC.  This is a fairly simple form, but is required to provide USAC with the appropriate bank account information needed to make electronic payments.

Last Friday’s News Brief reviews the following steps necessary to complete a Form 498:

  1. Set up the necessary permissions.  The EPC account administrator must specifically authorize a “School or Library Official” and/or “General Financial Contact” to complete and/or certify the Form 498 online.
  2. Locate your federal Employer Identification Number.
  3. Locate or obtain a DUNS number.  Note that a special DUNS lookup (by BEN) tool is available in the top left-hand portion of the State Information pages on the E-Rate Central website.
  4. Locate or obtain an FCC Registration Number (“FCC RN”).  Note: This is not the BEN.
  5. Determine which banking account you will use for direct payments.  An applicant planning to use more than one bank account (e.g., operating vs. capital accounts) must file separate Form 498s.
  6. Locate your bank account information (account number and bank routing number).
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.