USAC conducted the last training session of the fall 2015 season in Portland on November 16. Attendance at the event was packed with educators from all over the north west region of the United States. All the attendees were visibly ready and eager to be there and learn. Every Question and Answer (Q&A) session at the end of each presentation was filled with great questions from the attendees. Which prompted additional discussions on various topics.
A few notable takeaways that generated the most interest from the attendees includes the following:
Fiber Options Update by Eric Flock
As with other training sessions, Fiber connectivity and fiber network build outs appeared to be the greatest topic of interest with all of the attendees. The presentations included information for applicants regarding the different types of fiber service, as well as the eligibility requirements for each. Eric spent a good deal of time explaining the program rules for seeking bids on each type of fiber service.
- If seeking bids for a dark fiber services, applicants must also seek bids for a lit fiber services as well and compare the total cost of each type of fiber service to ensure the most cost effective option is chosen.
- Applicants appeared to be excited that E-rate will pay the full discounted share of up-front special construction charges in the first year instead of amortizing the cost of special construction in excess of $500,000 over three years.
- USAC will authorize a one year extension for special construction projects if applicants run into unavoidable delays.
- Applicants seeking dark fiber or self-provisioning must upload an RFP in the new FCC Form 470 system.
- Applicants were urged to start early, include state/local procurement requirements, provide specific details on the RFP, and keep the competitive bidding process open for a minimum of 28 days.
- Price of eligible products and services must be the most heavily weighted factor during the bid evaluation. However, there was some confusion regarding the competitive bidding process for a fiber buildout and whether cost for termination charges can be included in the bid evaluation process. Clarification was not provided during this training session.
- To clarify, applicants can evaluate the cost of termination to their current fiber service. However, cost of eligible products/services must be the highest weighted factor during the evaluation process.
- E-rate is providing an incentive for state support of last-mile broadband facilities. An E-rate match of up to 10% of the cost of construction will be provided to match state funding for special construction charges for high-speed broadband connections.
EPC Demonstrations by John Noran and Eric Flock
Explanations and demonstrations of the new E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) portal was helpful. EPC marks a dramatic change in program procedures and administration of the program in general. John indicated that going forward applicants would be able to access EPC with any web browser.
- John emphasized that EPC is still under development, and changes will continue throughout the funding year. They were not able to provide a specific time frame for the completion of this system.
- The authorized signer for E-rate documents will be assigned the Account Administrator for each school/library. This administrator will be able to create any number of users and assign each user with specific tasks. Each user will be given a full rights, partial rights, or a view only rights.
- Applicants will be required to submit FCC Forms 470 and 471 through EPC.
- Applicants were urged to upload completed contracts into the portal. The reasoning was that this information will be requested during PIA.
- All E-rate notifications/acknowledgments will be placed into EPC. However, John expressed the documentation requirements and urged all applicants to download these items and maintain copies at the applicant location.
- The old USAC PINs are going away. This news was met with a hardy round of applause from all attendees.
Direct BEAR Payment Process by Mick Kraft
The introduction of the direct BEAR payment process was met with excitement from the audience. The new BEAR process will start on July 1, 2016.
- The new process will be online only via the EPC Portal.
- Applicants were excited that they will no longer have to wait on the service providers to certify/submit the BEAR form to receive their reimbursements.
- Applicants were excited at the prospect of receiving their BEAR reimbursements in as little as two days. These payments will happen via electronic transfer directly to the applicant.
- The new Direct BEAR payment process requires each applicant to complete the FCC Form 498. The anticipated release date of the new form is January 2016.
- Mick stressed that E-rate consultants cannot be listed as the company officer on the FCC Form 498. Nor can the bank account be owned by the E-rate consultant.
- Applicants will be required to provide the Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN/Tax ID) and the Dun and Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System number (DUNS) associated with the school.