3 Keys to Remember While Finalizing your E-Rate Application

12 Mar 2021 7 min read
Mindy Fiscus
Mindy Fiscus
Director of Government Affairs, Learning Technology Center

The 21-22 E-Rate Form 471 filing deadline is just around the corner on March 25, 2021. As always, all schools and districts filing for E-Rate funds must complete and submit this form in order to take part in the associated bidding process.

Institutions that are still finalizing their Form 471 submission should not wait until the last moment to get the application support they need. At the same time, all schools and districts should keep these three changes and updates in mind as they put the finishing touches on their 21-22 Form 471 submission:

Updating Student Counts

Under regular circumstances, the FCC determines levels of E-Rate eligibility based upon the number of students in a district that qualify for free or reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). However, due to the number of schools nationwide presently operating in a remote or hybrid format, all students over the current school year have been made eligible for free or reduced lunches.

As a result, some districts have faced challenges creating an accurate count of NSLP eligible students in their schools. With this in mind, the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) announced in a news brief dated November 13, 2020 that districts applying for E-Rate do not need to update their eligible student count for their 21-22 application. Instead, districts may use their eligible student count from last year’s application.

Checking your C2 Budget

Starting this year, the E-Rate program will enter a new Category 2 (C2) cycle for FY 21-25. C2 budgets are capped in value (unlike their Category 1 counterparts), so schools need to be fully aware of their allotted funds prior to finalizing their 21-22 Form 471 paperwork.

A new online tool from the USAC can make that budgeting process a lot easier. Using this tool, districts can input their district or school-specific information to view how much C2 funding their institution has been allotted for this new cycle.

To utilize this tool, start by navigating to the filter panel and inputting the relevant information into the drop-down menus (including state, application type, city, and more). Be sure to click “apply” after inputting your information in each menu so that your inputs are actively applied to the results.

Once you’ve input all of the requested info, this tool will provide you with an overview of key C2 data, including your district or schools’ total C2 budget amount and their per-student fund multiplier.

Home Internet Access Funding

In light of the ongoing need for remote and hybrid instruction in many districts, the FCC is currently working on plans to supply money for home internet access through the E-Rate program.

As of March 11, 2021, that funding has been approved and signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This legislation has allotted $7.1 billion to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which will be administered by the FCC. This fund will be used to help eligible schools and libraries purchase wi-fi hotspots, modems, routers, and other internet connectivity hardware needed to support remote and hybrid learning.

Currently, the FCC is finalizing an application process for obtaining these funds, which will be distributed through the E-Rate program. According to legislative requirements, the FCC has 60 days from the act’s passage to implement fund acquisition rules. As such, further updates about applying for these new funds are expected in the near-term.

As this special E-Rate opportunity continues to take shape, prospective applicants are encouraged to keep an eye on official FCC news sources for the latest updates on how and when these funds will be distributed.

The LTC is also keeping a close eye on new E-Rate developments, both at a state and federal level. To keep up with new E-Rate updates, consider joining the LTC Community, where you will find an entire group devoted to discussing E-Rate funds, applications, and insights.

Learn the Latest and Get the E-Rate Support You Need

Regardless of whether you’re an E-Rate veteran or a first-time submitter, the Learning Technology Center (LTC) is here to support your district’s efforts to obtain affordable networking services and hardware. We offer a variety of webinars and workshops each year to help schools and districts across Illinois keep their E-Rate submissions on track for success.

Also, if you missed out on this year’s E-Rate Form 470 or Form 471 Workshop Tours, you can now view recordings from several sessions on each tour. These videos are now available over on the LTC’s E-Rate Series homepage.

Finally, if you have any questions about E-Rate – including any of the updates or changes outlined above – feel free to contact me, Mindy Fiscus, at mfiscus@ltcillinois.org. I serve as the Illinois State E-Rate Coordinator and can help you find the answers you need before the upcoming March 25th deadline.

Mindy Fiscus
Mindy Fiscus
Director of Government Affairs, Learning Technology Center

Mindy provides leadership, expertise, and support related to broadband connectivity, equipment and device access, and funding sources, including E-Rate.