Here at FFL World Headquarters, we get a lot of mail.  Some of it is good, some not so much, and some of it is just plain confusing.

Case in point:  as of late, we've been receiving a lot of advertisements from companies across the country proudly proclaiming their recent success in becoming "E-rate approved" and hocking their wares.  Our curiosity as to why receive these ads in the first place when we do not purchase any products with E-rate discounts notwithstanding, we find these ads troublesome.

First, "E-rate approved vendor" is not an official statutory classification.  There is no pre-qualification or screening process required in order for companies to begin participating in the E-rate program.  Officially, all a company needs to do is apply for a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) by submitting the FCC Form 498 -- a process that is open to any company in the country.  

What's worse, though, is that many of the companies that successfully obtain an SPIN make the broad assumption that since they were "E-rate approved," this must mean that everything they have for sale is fully eligible for E-rate discounts.  This is not the case.  In theory, the Pizza Hut corporation could apply for an E-rate SPIN, but this does not mean that large pepperoni pies are going to be eligible for E-rate discounts anytime soon (much to the chagrin of schools across America.)  Still, we get these ads, boldly proclaiming the E-rate eligibility of all kinds of products, some of which are eligible and some of which are clearly ineligible.

So, because it's what we do, we would like to offer this bit of advice to the E-rate community:  just because a company has obtained a SPIN, this does NOT mean that the company's products and services are eligible for E-rate discounts.  The official E-rate eligibility regulations are known as the Eligible Services List, which we have conveniently made available in a searchable format at http://www.fundsforlearning.com/tools/index.php?setTab=esl .  (The official PDF may be downloaded from our website at from our Applicant Help Center.)  

Remember, not all that shines is gold.  If you receive solicitations that make too-good-to-be-true claims of product and service eligibility from an "E-rate approved vendor," remember to fall back on the official E-rate eligibility rules and regulations before you proceed.