Procrastinators beware: Don’t put off E-Rate planning for 2018. Start now. It’s never too early to begin preparing to use the program effectively.
While 2018 may seem pretty far away, it’s much closer than you think in E-Rate time. That’s because a significant amount of planning and paperwork needs to happen before much-needed networking products get to your schools. More than 8,000 customers requested funding using Category Two last year.
But more schools should be taking advantage of these funds.
Early Filers Have Better Funding Chances
Speaking of forms, it’s best to file your Form 470 early. That way, your form will be open long enough for the 28-day bidding period.
The filing window for Form 470 can close as early as the end of February, so be prepared and give yourself plenty of wiggle room by filing long before the window closes.
If you file the day before the deadline, and something goes wrong, you could miss out on funding. Error corrections or missed deadlines require extensive paperwork, and there’s no guarantee it will be accepted.
Also, if you file on the final day, you’ll have to open all your bid responses immediately and file a Form 471 — or the actual funding request — on the last day it’s due. That’s a lot of work to do at the end of the process, even for the most professional of procrastinators.
If you requested E-Rate funding in years past, you know that much of the funding for funding years 2015 and 2016 is expiring on Sept. 30. So, you need to either use those funds or file an extension using Form 500.
Plan Your Infrastructure Needs for the Future
To determine your funding needs, look at the remaining budget you have for the E-Rate program and determine what your networking infrastructure needs are going to be a year from now. Complete the Form 470 for those items that will be installed the summer of 2018 through the fall of 2019. Submit your Form 470 to open your bidding process.
The remaining budget will tell you how much E-Rate funding is available. The budget is $150 per student plus inflation for each building. So, take your enrollment number or expected enrollment for the fall and determine how much you have remaining after the amount you already requested in previous years. After that, you can determine what Category Two infrastructure needs, such as switches, routers, access points, wireless controllers, basic firewalls or caching appliances, fit inside that remaining budget.
Side note: These forms must be completed online. If you’ve never applied for E-Rate before, the first thing you want to do is set up your profile in the E-Rate Productivity Center, also known as EPC (pronounced “epic”).
E-Rate Is Here to Stay — for Now
Due to the complexity of the program, the number of consultants to help schools file for funding has increased.
That complexity is one of the issues Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit V. Pai seems to have with the program, which makes people worry about its future.
The program isn’t going away anytime soon, though. Pai wants to simplify the process, but there are no changes expected for funding year 2018. Any changes would likely come for funding year 2019 or 2020.
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Not sure what tech you'll need to meet your educational goals? Be sure to check out CDW•G's resources on E-rate.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.