On Thursday November 5th USAC presented the Los Angeles 2015 E-rate Applicant Training session – below are some highlights:
USAC Applicant training held in Los Angeles kicked off with information from Mel Blackwell, Vice-president Schools and Libraries, about change to the E-rate process. Last year, the FCC released the reform order (7th R&O) significantly changing the E-rate program. USAC is now implementing procedures and processes to carry out those program changes. Most notably, the EPC Portal will be a new process change for all applicants and service providers participating in the program for FY2016. Currently the Form 470 is available in the Portal. Very soon the Form 471 will be available and all other FCC Forms and correspondence will follow.
During the training, many applicants had questions about using the new USAC Portal tool. Attendees voiced concern about the new term “cardinal change”. What is it and why does it require posting a new Form 470? In prior years, if an applicant made a change to an RFP they could make the changes to the RFP and notify all vendors that a change or amendment was available and keep the RFP open 28 days from the date of the amendment or change. The new Form 470 requires more detail and very specific quantities. Attendees asked how will a service provider know if a Form 470 was canceled and a new one issued? Mel Blackwell, Vice President Schools and Libraries Program, agreed that this is a topic to address for all participants. The Portal does not allow an applicant to know which service providers downloaded the RFP. This limits an applicant’s ability to send amendments or changes to an interested vendor. Applicants have no way of knowing what vendors are interested in the Form 470 and RFP. Interested service providers will now be required to log in to the E-rate portal on a regular basis to check for updates. Eric Flock, USAC Senior Manager of Program Management, recommended that vendors select the “follow” option for a Form 470 of interest. Selecting “follow” will enable the follower to receive notifications of changes to that form. This will help interested service providers if the 470 is still active but it will not help a vendor receive notification if a new Form 470 was posted due to a cardinal change.
Another concern voiced by attendees of the training is the lack of application form guidance. The forms are being implemented into the new E-rate Portal but at this time detailed FCC instructions are not available. Applicants are confused by the function and selection options without guidance and instruction. USAC is working as quickly as possible to provide additional guidance and implement enhancements to the tool to help with these questions and to provide detailed instruction within the online applications. USAC speakers encouraged the use of the narrative section of all forms to better explain service sought.
Overall the training was very informative and the USAC staff speaking demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the new Portal requirements and limitations. Applicants are encouraged to start as early as possible to allow for the adjustment to the Portal requirements and ongoing enhancements to the tool.