Now that the FCC is moving forward with E-rate reform, USAC is developing a new and improved online tool for the Form 471. Attendees of the USAC E-rate training sessions this fall have been getting a sneak peek at the tool—scheduled for a Funding Year 2015 rollout. Recently, I have been asked if I am concerned about the USAC website updates impacting our service at Funds For Learning. The answer, for a variety of reasons, is no.

Forms are an event. Managing E-rate is a profession.

Managing the annual application process, meeting deadlines, and following document retention protocols is not something that an online form can deliver. We help our consulting clients manage a dynamic and unrelenting process: organizing and cataloging documents, tracking assets, notifying staff of funding activity, navigating reviews, storing documents for five 10+ years, and providing a host of other services. Inserting data points into E-rate paperwork is only a small piece of the puzzle for any E-rate applicant.

Client accountability enhances our service.

Clients choose whether or not to renew their services with Funds For Learning. That little truth is the key to our clients’ success (and ours, too.) If we don’t deliver value for our clients, they will walk away from us. Getting fired is a “luxury” that USAC doesn’t have. Please don’t get me wrong – I respect the hard work that USAC does. I don’t always agree with them, but I know they have a tough assignment and I appreciate the job they do in support of the program. But schools and libraries don’t select who administers the E-rate program. On the other hand, schools and libraries make the decision to work with the E-rate Guides at Funds For Learning. We are glad to have that accountability. It helps us all deliver a reliable service that is continually improving and innovating.

A better USAC means a better E-rate.

Not everyone should need an accountant to file their taxes; similarly, not everyone should need a consultant for their E-rate application. As much as I’d love to help every school and library manage their E-rate funding, it wouldn’t be good if everyone had to hire us, or license our tools. We all benefit from USAC’s improvements. As they improve the administration of the program, USAC helps schools and libraries get more funding, more quickly and equitably. Guess what? Those results align with Funds For Learning’s desired outcomes for our clients. Therefore, if USAC does a better job, everyone wins.

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For many years, Funds For Learning’s E-rate Manager service has set the standard for online E-rate application prep work and e-filing.  Case in point: over 10 years ago, back in September 2004, we were awarded the EdNet Pioneer Award. (In hindsight, we were offering “cloud-based functionality” before we even knew it was called that.) Fast forward to today and next year promises to be even more exciting as we begin offering new and enhanced services and features. I can’t wait to tell you more about them!

In the meantime, enhancements to USAC’s website will continue to improve the E-rate program. This is a very positive step. It will set the program on an even stronger footing, continuing to help schools and libraries get the Internet capacity that they need.

As far as Funds For Learning is concerned, as long as USAC has a free telephone hotline and a free website, we will continue our pursuit to provide a service that is worth paying for.