Opening the online tendering process: what should schools prepare for?


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The E-rate funding application window is expected to open in January 2022. Officially known as the Universal Service Schools and Libraries Program, E-rate supports eligible K-12 schools and libraries through America with access to affordable telecommunications and information services. For the program, participants must conduct a competitive bidding process where they select the most profitable companies to provide the goods and services they have requested.

The challenges brought on by the pandemic and distance / hybrid learning have highlighted the main issues and resources needed by educational institutions. From network connectivity to cybersecurity, schools and libraries have more opportunities than ever to invest in resources that increase their online reach to their students, wherever they are.

Although the window will open soon, the E-rate auction season has yet to resume. According to E-rate compliance services company, Funds for Learning, although most competitive offers are released later in the year, schools and libraries will fare better by starting the appeals process early. ‘offers. According to company research, increased competition in the Form 470 bidding process is one of the major contributors to the electronic rate offering faster connection speeds at low cost.

According to Funds for Learning’s 11th Annual Electronic Rate Trends Report, 97% of applicants agree that network security should qualify for electronic rate support. [Image: Maria Thalassinou, Unsplash].

We spoke with Roger Sands, CEO of Wyebot, about the 2022 E-rate bidding process and what schools should really invest in. The company provides wifi insurance to schools and is one of the many companies that schools can bid on.

As someone unfamiliar with E-Rate auctions, how does the E-rate process work?

The tendering process is designed to increase competition and reduce costs. Once an eligible school or library has determined what telecommunications goods or services it needs, it files Form 470 and possibly a Request for Proposal (RFP). These forms provide a specific and detailed description of what the school or library is looking for and serve as a formal request for tenders. Suppliers review requests and submit offers, describing how their specific products and services can best meet the needs of schools and libraries. Schools and libraries then select the vendor they want to work with and ask the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to approve the purchase.

Why is E-Rate so important to schools and libraries, and why should they prioritize it when studying new technologies?

Technology touches every part of our life, and it’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing down or reversing. Schools and libraries can use the internet, apps, IoT devices, and more to provide students with unique learning experiences, facilitate research and study, and prepare them for future careers. E-Rate even makes the latest technology affordable for any school or library.

COVID has naturally had an impact on E-Rate auctions, the number of 470 forms is lower than it has been in recent years. Why do you think there has been a steady decline in requests?

I think many qualifying schools and libraries don’t know how many tech can be purchased with E-Rate. At first, E-Rate was widely regarded as a great way to bring high-speed Wi-Fi to schools, and it is, but there are so many other products and services available that can help students, teachers, librarians, administrators and staff. . I think we need to do a better job sharing this information.

Did COVID highlight anything specific in auction behavior?

The government realized the added load that was suddenly placed on IT staff and allowed extra time for some forms.

There are a variety of technology offerings and solutions available for schools right now. What kinds of technologies do you think schools and libraries should invest in? Especially in this time of distance and hybrid learning?

It is important to keep students and all library users connected and engaged – with each other, with teachers, and with the world. Technologies that support this, whether it’s improving WiFi, providing virtual reality apps or simulations for an out-of-the-classroom experience, or more, are a good investment.

It is also essential that schools and libraries have remote access to their WiFi networks, so any technology that provides this is essential at this time. With remote access, IT can analyze, troubleshoot, and optimize networks even if teams cannot be on site. This keeps everything running smoothly and ensures that end users (students, staff, teachers, etc.) have uninterrupted access to anything that depends on WiFi – which is a lot.

Schools and libraries are currently planning their offerings. Compared to previous years, what factors should they take into account before making their offers and how should they best prepare for this season?

Ideally, they all have access to historical network data and can see how the behavior and performance of the network has changed over time. This includes the performance of connected devices and infrastructure. This data helps decision makers predict future needs, which is great when it comes to preparing E-Rate offers. If someone doesn’t have access to this data yet, I recommend taking a month to collect as many data points as possible across the entire network, and then using that information to decide which goods and services are the best. no longer needed.

Is there anything schools and libraries should avoid when submitting offers / submitting applications during the E-Rate process?

E-Rate is a time-based process, so the sooner you can start the better. Our recommendation is not to wait until the last minute to submit the 470/471 form. There is a 28 day waiting period after submitting Form 470. Likewise, there is a deadline for submitting Form 486. On the process side, it is always a good idea to indicate ” equivalent products are acceptable ”, to allow an open tendering process and avoid PIA queries.

It is very important to choose not only the right category to which a selected product or service belongs, but also the right “type of service”. If any of these items are incorrect, it may result in the denial of the USAC funding request. Because the USAC does not allow changes to a Form 470 that has already been submitted, it is often recommended that you reference an externally linked RFP, even if it is empty. Certain changes may be indicated via an amendment to the RFP.

Why is WiFi automation needed and how do you get WiFi automation technology through E-Rate?

School and library Wi-Fi networks often consist of hundreds of devices, access points to laptops, projectors, printers, thermostats, etc. These devices send thousands of data packets per second, and those packets contain the information IT needs to understand the health and behavior of the network. It is impossible for a human to analyze so much data, identify problems and their root causes, and resolve them in real time, yet this is exactly what is needed for reliable and optimized WiFi. That is why WiFi automation is necessary.

WiFi automation platforms automate the analysis process. Depending on the platform, they can keep tabs on the entire network ecosystem 24/7, automatically alert IT to any issues, and provide actionable resolutions for quick, often troubleshooting. before end users are affected. This saves schools and libraries a lot of time and money. Wyebot’s Wireless Intelligence Platform is an award-winning, vendor-independent WiFi automation platform and is eligible for electronic pricing.

Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t covered?

In the event that it is necessary to change a Form 470, a new Form 470 should be submitted. A commonly used trick is to use a nickname and then change the nickname to “Canceled” later. This will instruct the bidding suppliers to respond to the correct / updated Form 470.

Featured Image: SCREEN POST, Unsplash.

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