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Time is running short for schools and libraries to seek funding for eligible products and services in the 2016 E-Rate funding season. E-Rate provides funding for high speed Internet access, dedicated services, and dark fiber to schools and libraries, as well as premises-based WiFi deployments. The filing process is driven largely by schools and libraries (aka “Applicants”), many of which have already posted applications on the E-Rate Productivity Center (“EPC”) web site managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”). For 2016, schools and libraries have until April 29, 2016 to request discounts on eligible products and services.

Schools and libraries (“the Applicants”) initiate the bidding process by posting a Form 470 on the EPC web site, setting out entity information, services requested, technical contact information and procurement information. The filing window for Applicants to submit a Form 470 remains open until April 1. After posting a Form 470, Applicants must wait 28 days before selecting a service providers’ bid. Since the window for filing Forms 470 is now open, service providers should be accessing USAC’s Form 470 Search Tool or Form 470 Download Reports Tool to view bidding opportunities.

It is important for services providers to bid aggressively; low cost is the primary factor that Applicants must consider when selecting service providers. In addition to pricing, Applicants and prospective bidders should be mindful of the basic rules governing E-Rate bidding and funding. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has entered into numerous consent decrees with both service providers and Applicants, including state agencies, for alleged violations of the competitive bidding process.

When the school or library selects a winning bidder, the Applicant and winning bidder may work together to complete the filing process, which includes finalizing the FCC Form 471. Winning bidders must submit the Form 473 – the Service Provider Annual Certification (“SPAC”) Form—for the initial and subsequent funding years.  This form includes several certifications that service providers must attest to in order to participate in the program.

Prior to releasing funds, USAC must review and approve an Applicant’s Form 471. After approval, USAC will send the Applicant a Funding Commitment Decision Letter (“FCDL”) and notify the service provider that its bid has been approved. There is no set time for USAC to conclude its review of the Applicant’s filing. Some winning bids with extenuating circumstances from 2014 are just now receiving FCDLs.

Last but not least, the Applicant must file a Form 486 informing USAC that approved services have been initiated and that the Applicant is in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (“CIPA”). At this juncture, USAC will begin to pay submitted invoices.