What is E-Rate?
The FCC's E-Rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries, including Tribal libraries. With funding from the Universal Service Fund (fcc.gov/general/universal-service-fund), E-Rate provides discounts for telecommunications, internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. Discounts range from 20 to 90 percent and are based on the poverty level of the schools. Rural schools and libraries may also receive a higher discount. Recipients must pay some portion of the service and equipment costs.
Are Tribal libraries eligible for E-Rate?
What does a library need to do to be designated as a Tribal library?
Tribal Councils can designate a library as a Tribal library, such as through a Tribal Resolution.
Tribal libraries should be able to demonstrate that they have three basic characteristics of a library: (1) regularly scheduled hours, (2) staff, and (3) materials available for library users.
Tribal libraries may also work with the state library administrative agency where they are located.
In July 2023, the Commission adopted an Order making Tribal colleges and universities (TCU) libraries eligible for E-Rate support when they act as the public library by having dedicated library staff, regular hours, and a collection available for public use in its community.
Where do applicants apply for E-Rate?
Applicants can apply for E-Rate support through the E-Rate Productivity Center (EPC), that can be accessed through USAC’s webpage. EPC is the account and application management portal for the E-Rate program. E-Rate program participants use this tool to manage program processes, receive notifications, and to contact customer service.
How does a library tell USAC it is a Tribal library?
Tribal libraries should check the Tribal check box located in the entity’s EPC Profile. We are working to update the form to collect Tribal affiliation from Tribal schools and libraries.
Checking the box helps the FCC and USAC understand who is participating in the program to provide further Tribal outreach and training, as well as assess Tribal training efforts through participation.
When can applicants apply for funding?
Competitive bidding and applying for E-Rate support happen before the funding year starts. A funding year (FY) starts on July 1 and ends the following June 30. For example, FY 2023 runs from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024.
All FCC Forms 471 must be filed during the application filing window for the relevant funding year. The filing window generally opens in mid-January and closes in mid-March in advance of the start of the funding year. For example, the FY 2023 application filing window opened in January 2023. The FCC Form 471, the application form for E-Rate support, may only be filed after the competitive bidding process has been completed and a service provider has been selected. This means that an applicant must submit FCC Form 470, the form that opens the competitive bidding process, at least 28 days before the close of the FCC Form 471 filing window.
It is recommended to file an FCC Form 470 earlier than 28 days before the last day of the FCC Form 471 filing window. Applicants can post their FCC Form 470 one year before the relevant funding year will open. For example, the FY 2024 FCC Form 470 will be available starting on July 1, 2023.
What services are eligible for discounts?
Telecommunications and Internet services related to providing library services to individuals that occur on library property are eligible for discounts. Each year, the FCC issues a list of services and equipment that are eligible for the upcoming funding year. There are two types of eligible services: Category One and Category Two.
Category One includes services, such as data transmission and Internet access, from the service provider to the schools and libraries. Examples of Category One services include leased lit or dark fiber; wireless services (e.g. microwave); satellite service; T-1, T-3, etc.; DSL. Category One services are not capped by a budget but must be cost-effective.
Category Two includes services and equipment needed for broadband connectivity within schools and libraries. Examples of Category Two services and equipment include routers and switches; cabling, wireless access points; basic maintenance of eligible internal connections (BMIC); and managed internal broadband services (managed Wi-Fi). Category Two services are limited by a pre-discount budget that is calculated based on library square footage. Budgets cover a five-year period.
How are discounts calculated?
Discounts for support range from 20 to 90 percent and depend on the category of service requested, the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the appropriate school district.
The E-Rate program uses the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to determine applicants’ poverty level. An independent library uses the NSLP figure for the public school district in which it is located. If the library is not physically located within a district, it should use the figure for the school district geographically closest to it. If the library is a system with multiple branches, it should use the figure for the school district in which the main branch of the library is located.
Urban or rural status in funding year 2023 is based on 2010 census data. EPC will automatically determine urban or rural status when an entity’s physical address is entered.
What changes were adopted in the July 2023 Report and Order?
The Commission adopted a Report and Order (FCC 23-56) in July 2023 amending several rules to encourage Tribal libraries to participate in the E-Rate program. Specific updates to the E-Rate program rules include:
- Granting E-Rate eligibility to Tribal College and University (TCU) libraries that also serve as public libraries in their communities.
- Creating an exemption to the competitive bidding requirements for libraries seeking E-Rate support for category two services that total a pre-discount price of $3,600 or less per library per funding year. Category two services are the internal connections needed for broadband connectivity within schools. This step can help simplify the application process.
- Increasing the maximum category two discount rate to 90% and the category two funding floor to $55,000 for Tribal libraries. This step can raise the amount of funding for category two services that are reimbursable through the E-Rate program.
- Providing guidance on cost allocation issues experienced by applicants.
- Adopting a formal definition of “Tribal” within the E-Rate program to better identify Tribal applicants seeking E-Rate funding.
- Amending the Commission’s E-Rate program rules to add a Tribal community representative to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) Board of Directors.
- Directing USAC to provide increased outreach and training to Tribal applicants.
After a Funding Commitment Decision Letter has been issued, what is the normal timeframe for receiving payment?
Applicants or service providers may only request reimbursement for services and/or equipment that has been delivered. Once delivered, applicants or service providers may file requests for reimbursement. Most reimbursement payments are received within sixty days, but the time frame can vary based on the invoice associated with the request and other details associated with it.
Can the filing process be streamlined to file fewer forms?
There are options to file fewer forms:
- Using multi-year contracts means fewer FCC Forms 470. (Note: Applicants must still file the FCC Form 471 requesting E-Rate support each year).
- Using SPI/discounted billing method means fewer invoicing forms.
- Forming or joining a consortium, where only one member of the consortium files forms on behalf of all members.
Additionally, the filing process can be streamlined by grouping the forms together by:
- Filing three forms in October: FCC Form 470 (competitive bidding for upcoming year, if needed), FCC Form 486 (informing USAC services have started for the current year if you’ve received your FCDL and certifying compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)), and FCC Form 472 BEAR (invoices for previous year).
- Filing FCC Form 471 during the application filing window in January through March.
What is CIPA?
The Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, was enacted by Congress in 2000 to address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content over the Internet. Schools or libraries that receive discounts for Internet access or internal connections through the E-Rate program, must certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology measures. For more information on CIPA, please click here.
How can applicants keep up to date on upcoming deadlines?
Applicants can review their Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL), which provides the specific dates for each funding request number.
Additionally, applicants and interested parties can obtain information about upcoming deadlines and program initiatives by subscribing to USAC’s monthly Tribal newsletter. You can sign up here.
Can Tribal Libraries apply as part of a Consortium?
A Tribal government can create a consortium for its Tribally controlled schools and libraries, and a Tribal government employee can act as the consortium leader.
The consortium leader is responsible for ensuring that necessary certifications are made, responding to USAC inquiries on behalf of members, and maintaining records. Consortium leaders must be authorized by each member to act on behalf of consortium members, but a consortium leader itself does not need to be eligible for E-Rate discounts.
Are there invoice deadline extensions?
You can request and receive one 120-day extension of the invoice deadline if the request is submitted on or before the original invoice deadline. You do not need to provide a reason for your request. Invoice deadline extension requests must be filed in EPC.
Can an applicant appeal a USAC funding decision?
An applicant or service provider who wishes to appeal a USAC decision must first file an appeal with USAC to seek review of the decision before filing an appeal with the FCC. Parties must submit their appeal to USAC in EPC no later than 60 days from the date of the decision. After USAC has reviewed the appeal and issued a decision, a party may appeal USAC's decision to the FCC.
Can an applicant seek a waiver of program rules, such as late payment fees or form deadlines?
Parties seeking a waiver of FCC rules (i.e., late payment fees, waiver of form deadlines, etc.) must file a waiver request directly with the FCC. USAC cannot waive FCC rules.
What if an applicant receives numerous bids during the competitive bidding process?
Applicants must evaluate all bids fairly and equally. Select the most cost-effective bid using price of the eligible products and services as the primary factor in a bid evaluation matrix.
What if an applicant receives no bids during the competitive bidding process?
Applicants can solicit a bid and accept a single incoming bid if it is cost-effective. Do not accept the bid if it is not cost-effective.
What If my Tribe’s service provider wants to submit a bid?
Applicants must keep the competitive bidding process open and fair. Information shared with one bidder must be shared with all. Track any helpful information your Tribe’s company might have access to and make sure the knowledge is shared with all potential bidders via FCC Form 470.
Applicants should not share internal information about the competitive bidding process, should not share staff, should not share finances, and should not select the Tribe’s service provider’s bid if it is not the most cost-effective.
What is special construction?
Special construction charges are the upfront, non-recurring costs of deploying new or upgraded network facilities. Special construction consists of three components: (1) construction of actual network facilities, (2) design and engineering planning, and (3) project management costs.
What is state/Tribal match funding?
For Tribal schools and libraries, the E-rate Program will also match special construction funding provided by states, Tribal governments, or other federal agencies on a one-to-one basis, up to an additional ten percent for the applicant's discount rate. Total E-rate support with matching funds may not exceed 100 percent.
What are the eligibility requirements for state/Tribal match funding?
- The broadband service must meet the FCC’s long-term connectivity targets.
- The funding must be from an eligible source.
- The terms and conditions associated with the state funding must not conflict with E-Rate program rules.
- The total amount of support, including matching funds, may not exceed 100 percent of the cost of the project.
- State (or Tribal) match funds are available for special construction only. Applicants should create separate funding requests on their FCC Forms 471 for special construction.
When must services be delivered and installed?
Recurring services (e.g., monthly internet access) must be delivered during the funding year and received by June 30, 2023. Non-recurring services (e.g., equipment installations) can generally be installed through September 30 following the close of the funding year. Delivery and installation can also sometimes start before the funding year.
How long do I need to maintain documentation associated with the program?
Program participants must maintain their records for at least 10 years after the latter of the last day of the applicable funding year, or the service delivery deadline.