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May 10, 2021

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.

Wave 4 for FY 2021 was released on Thursday, May 6th, for a total of $80.0 million.  Cumulative commitments are $958 million.  Nationwide, USAC has now funded 62% of the FY 2021 applications representing 32% of the requested funding.

The FCC’s final rules for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (“ECF”) are due to be released today, May 10th.  The past week has been a busy one for everyone involved — applicants, service providers, associated organizations, USAC, and the FCC itself.

Following the release of a draft of the new ECF rules on April 30th (see our newsletter of May 3rd), the FCC gave interested parties the opportunity to make ex parte presentations through Wednesday, May 5th, to suggest changes and/or corrections.  The invitation was not ignored.  As of last Friday afternoon, almost fifty ex parte reports had been filed with the Commission (see the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System for Docket No. 21-93).

For the most part, commenting parties recognized that the draft rules were unlikely to change dramatically when finalized due to the accelerated ECF implementation period.  Commenters, therefore, focused more narrowly on suggested modifications rather than on a broad restructuring.  Several of the more important issues addressed are summarized below with links to representative filings.

  • Application Periods:  The draft rules proposed an initial application window covering retroactive expenditures (not covered by other federal COVID funding) incurred from July 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021.  At least one additional window would cover incurred or projected expenditures beginning as of May 1, 2021.

    A common request was to expand the initial reimbursement period back to at least March 1, 2020 (e.g., NYCDOE) or January 27, 2020 (e.g., CGCS) to more fully cover the start of the pandemic.  More broadly, but perhaps less likely, others recommended a single window starting from an earlier date and extending into the future, say through June 30, 2022 (e.g., Remote Learning Coalition).
  • Allocation of Limited Funds:  The FCC has proposed that if ECF demand exceed the $7 billion program cap, funding would be allocated first to those applicants with the highest discount rate (or even the highest NSLP percentage) much like the old Priority 2 rule.  To assure that all applicants would receive some funding, several parties have proposed pro rata allocation (e.g., SECA).
  • Equipment and Service Eligibility:  The FCC’s draft rules are focused on provider-supplied internet services and devices to unserved students and patrons.  The construction of facilities to extend school and library internet services off-campus to reach unserved households is conditioned on a showing that commercial service to those areas is unavailable.  Numerous comments sought clarification of related certifications and the elimination of the FCC’s cost allocation rule for off-campus internet services (e.g., SHLB and USTelecom).

    A related issue involves the treatment of connected end-user devices that have never before been E-rate eligible.  The proposed rule requires a strict one-to-one accounting of devices with user names and the traditional ten years plus record retention.  Comments indicated that this was problematic in several ways.  EdLiNC, for one, suggested that applicants be allowed “to purchase additional devices to account for damage and breakage to permit uninterrupted learning.”  ALA was concerned about the confidentiality of patron data noting that many libraries, often by law, proactively delete loan records when any items are returned.  If the rule requiring retention of patron data is left unchanged, many libraries nationwide will be legally unable to benefit from ECF support.
  • Competitive Bidding:  Many parties supported the FCC’s plan not to require competitive bidding for ECF purchases (presumably eliminating Form 470s while still requiring compliance with state and local procurement rules).  An ask by CTIA that the FCC clarify that the Lowest Corresponding Price (“LCP”) rule not be applied to ECF is likely to fall on deaf ears.
  • InvoicingNAIS expressed disappointment that the FCC proposed to require only BEAR invoices arguing that many applicants will be unable to front-end ECF purchases.  Other filers proposed to circumvent that barrier by permitting BEAR ECF “reimbursements” upfront based upon applicant purchase orders or vendor invoices.

This has been only a brief review of ex parte comments filed within a very short time in an attempt to support or modify provisions of an early draft of the FCC’s ECF rules.  With the final rules set to be released today, we will see what effect, if any, these comments made.  Please see next week’s newsletter.

Upcoming E-Rate Dates:

May 10 Expected release date of the FCC’s ECF rules (see article above).
May 12 “Launch date” for the Emergency Broadband Benefit (“EBB”) program.  See FCC announcement (DA 21-493) and our newsletter of May 3rd.
May 14 Form 486 deadline for FY 2020 covering funding committed in Wave 38.  More generally, the Form 486 deadline is 120 days from the FCDL date or the service start date (typically July 1st), whichever is later.  Upcoming Form 486 deadlines are:
Wave 39            05/21/2021
Wave 40            05/28/2021
May 26     USAC webinar for beginner applicants on PIA and Selective Reviews.

ECF SAM Registration Requirement:

One administrative detail in the FCC’s draft ECF order, which will surely be included in the final order, reads:

96. System for Award Management (SAM) Registration. All applicants that intend to participate in the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program must also register with the System for Award Management (SAM). SAM is a web-based, government-wide application that collects, validates, stores, and disseminates business information about the federal government’s partners in support of federal awards, grants, and electronic payment processes.

Many schools and libraries already have SAM registrations, but this is a small ECF detail that is worth checking.  If not registered, or if the annual registration has expired, now is the time to correct the problem.  Although there are a number of firms that will provide assistance on registrations or renewals, the process can be done free and without much difficulty on the SAM.GOV site.  The SEARCH RECORDS tab provides a simple way to check registration status.

SAM.gov Quick Search

Searching by entity name should work well for most applicants but it worth noting that searching by DUNS Number, required for all E-rate applicants, is another option.  A successful search will show the following information (including the registration Expiration Date):

SAM.gov quick search results for an entity name.

USAC’s Schools and Libraries News Brief of May 7, 2021 discusses the following topics concerning compliance with the Childers’s Internet Protection Act (“CIPA”):

  • The three basic CIPA requirements
    • Technology protection measure (a.k.a. “filter”)
    • Internet safety policy
    • Public notice and hearing
  • Certifying compliance with CIPA
  • Timing of compliance with CIPA
  • Documentation of compliance with CIPA

Last Friday’s News brief also announced the opening of registration for the following two webinars:

Date and Time Topic Audience Experience Level
May 26, 2021
1:00 p.m. EDT
Supply Chain Office Hours Service providers All levels