E-rate Discount for Texas Public Libraries
What is E-rate?
Accredited public libraries can apply each year to the federal E-rate program, using a particular bidding and form submission process to receive discounts on monthly Internet access costs and most anything to do with bringing high-speed Internet to the library (including equipment and cabling). E-rate was created to ensure schools and libraries have access to affordable high-speed broadband to support digital learning and robust connectivity. It is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Why apply for E-rate?
The MONEY! Each year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set aside over two billion dollars of funding for schools and libraries to help them pay for Internet costs. In Texas, a majority of public libraries are eligible for an 80% discount, with over a quarter eligible for a whopping 90%. That means most participating libraries only have to pay 10-20% of their Internet costs, with E-rate paying the rest of the bill. High-speed Internet (aka "broadband") has become a necessity in public libraries, and E-rate is the chief means to support and sustain this crucial service as costs rise and demand increases. This is non-competitive funding - a library just has to fill out the forms correctly to receive the discount.
Which libraries are eligible?
In Texas, a library must be accredited in order to be eligible for E-rate discounts. For more information about accreditation, please contact Erica McCormick, Program Coordinator, 512-463-5527, email@example.com.
What is my library's discount?
E-rate discount percentages are calculated for a library based on its urban/rural status and the percentage of students in the library's school district that are eligible for NSLP (National School Lunch Program). This information is already compliled and associated with the library by the E-rate application system before a library applies. If you'd like to know a specific library's most current E-rate discount percentage, please contact Henry Stokes, State E-rate Coordinator for Texas libraries, 512-463-6624, firstname.lastname@example.org and he can look it up for you.
Is E-rate right for your library? Two requirements to be aware of:
1) Competitive Bidding Process - An E-rate-participating library can't already be under contract with a service provider for the time period it is applying for. In other words, participants must use E-rate’s bidding process to select its vendor(s). Sometimes this is an issue for a library if a city or county does its own bidding process or has contracts already in place for the next couple of years. If the applicant is unable to put the telecommunications service out for bid using E-rate, then it won't be able to get the E-rate discount applied to it.
2) Complying with Children's Internet Protection Act - A participating library will have to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (i.e. filtering present on all computers, plus a few other things). An applicant has until the start of services for the funding year it is applying for (July 1st) to become compliant. For more information on CIPA, watch a recent TSLAC archived webinar on the topic (Note: you can receive CE credit if you log in and enroll in the short course).
How does the E-rate application process work?
Below is a brief summary of the application process, but please contact Henry Stokes, State E-rate Coordinator for Texas libraries, 512-463-6624, email@example.com for more information. He is happy to work with libraries one-on-one to assist with the process every step of the way. Consider him your E-rate Guide & Translator.
The first step (after confirming accreditation, no already established, inescapable contracts for the E-rate funding year, and CIPA readiness) is to set up an account in the E-rate web portal called EPC (pronounced "Epic") by calling the E-rate Client Service Bureau (aka help-line) at 888-203-8100. It is within the browser-based EPC portal that a library applicant can set up their profile, submit all of their the forms, and receive communications about their application.
Applicants start filing in advance for an upcoming E-rate funding year (which runs July 1 to June 30). This means that funding won't actually start being received until July of the funding year at the earliest and will continue until June of the next year.
Here is the order of events in the application process:
1) File a Form 470. This first form simply lists the eligible E-rate services that the libraries would like vendors to bid on.
2) Wait at least 28 days for any bids to be received from vendors responding to the Form 470.
3) Evaluate the bids received with price being a primary factor.
4) Select the winning vendor and then sign any contracts/agreements with them - usually for services to begin on July of that year.
5) File a Form 471 within the Form 471 Filing Window (exact dates change each year, but usually a few months early spring) that outlines the service you would like discounts on, the winning vendor, as well as the costs. The actual discount amount request will be calculated at this time.
6) Wait for the Form 471 to be reviewed and a commitment decision to be made.
7) File a Form 486 after the commitment is received and the actual services from the selected vendor have started.
8) File a BEAR or SPI form to invoice. There are two invoicing options: 1) For a library to receive credits off of bills, a service provider should file a SPI form. In this case, the library does not need to submit a form themselves to invoice. Alternatively, if a library desires a direct deposit instead, rather than credits, a library should file a BEAR form (or forms). Note: this year, there are additional steps to take in order to set up the BEAR direct deposit. Contact Henry Stokes, 512-463-6624, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Resources to assist library applicants with the process:
- Official Training Webinars - USAC (the company that runs E-rate) has recorded introductory and walkthrough webinars
- ALA/PLA's Making E-rate Make Sense video - helpful in giving libraries an overview of EPC and what to expect from the new E-rate process (scroll down the page at the link to watch the embedded video)
For filling out the forms in EPC, there are some handy walkthrough slides to take you through it screen by screen:
- Slide walkthrough of the Form 470 in EPC
- Slide walkthrough of Category 1 Form 470 with screenshots (starting slide 34)
- Slide walkthrough of Category 2 Form 470 (starting slide 50)
- Here is a video made by a library applicant that takes you through the process
- Specific pdf examples of 470s (scroll to middle section), based on category of service, can also help you get an idea of what to enter
- And for Form 471, this presentation is available
Be sure to sign up to the Texas E-rate Wrangler, an email newsletter maintained by Henry Stokes for news, tips, deadline reminders, and training opportunities,