Every year, as soon as the holidays are over, we start to receive questions about E-rate. As you probably know, E-rate is a government reimbursement program designed to deliver affordable telecommunications and internet access to schools, libraries and rural healthcare organizations. Like with any government program, E-rate is full of rules, regulations, processes and procedures – all of which can lead to confusion and frustration for you and your customers if you’re not up to speed. Your eligible customers probably know a lot about E-rate, but arming yourself with the basics will go a long way in positioning you as a knowledgeable resource they can count on.

To get you started, we’ve rounded up a list of frequently asked questions to highlight some of the essential elements of the program. For the sake of this discussion, we will focus on rural healthcare organizations. To learn more about schools and libraries, check out our FAQs dedicated to that program.

Before we get into the FAQs, let’s look at one of the fundamental concepts around E-rate: the two ways reimbursement works.

  • Service Provider Invoice (SPI) – Using the SPI method, the service provider charges the customer for the portion of the bill for which they are responsible. On the back end, the service provider submits the SPI form to obtain reimbursement form the government for the remainder of the total amount.
  • Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) – Using the BEAR method, the service provider’s invoice will reflect the full amount of the service. The customer is responsible to pay the full amount and file the BEAR form to receive reimbursement from USAC.

In plain terms, under the SPI method, the government cuts the service provider a check; under the BEAR method, the customer gets the check. Although service providers can choose to offer one or the other, Nitel accepts both methods, so customers can choose the reimbursement method that best fits their needs.

Additionally, organizations can choose to apply for the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) for a flat discount on broadband expenses and network equipment or the Telecommunications Program for a discount based on the urban-rural price difference in their area on voice services. The Telecommunications Program is in the process of being phased out so let’s dig a little deeper into the HCF Program.

Like with any government program, E-rate is full of rules, regulations, procedures and processes. Your eligible customers probably know a lot about it, but arming yourself with some basic information will position you as a knowledgeable resource they can count on.

Common E-Rate Rural Healthcare Questions

  • When is the filing window for the E-rate rural healthcare program?
    The filing window is open from the beginning of February through the end of May. During this time, rural healthcare organizations can submit a formal request for services (Form 461) and start fielding bids.
  • Who is responsible for completing the application paperwork for the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF)?
    Customers are responsible for completing all paperwork; service providers are prohibited from completing any funding paperwork. Your Nitel contact can help quote services following our regular pricing process.
  • What is a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) and why is that important?
    A Supplier Identification Number is a nine-digit number assigned to service providers by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) when the relevant FCC paperwork is filed. The SPIN number should be used when filing for an E-rate deal to indicate the supplier chosen as a network provider. Nitel’s SPIN is 143028851 and should be filed under Network Innovations, Inc.
  • Can my customer choose any service provider?
    Customers can choose a service provider based on the factors that are most important to them, but cost-effectiveness must be weighed more heavily than any of the other factors. Once the request for services has been posted to the My Portal for Healthcare Providers for 28 days the customer can move forward with their selection. If the customer wishes to choose a service provider that is not the most cost-effective, they must submit an explanation detailing the reasons for their decision.
  • What if my customer is unhappy with the provider they select?
    Although the funding year is July 1 through June 30, customers that are unhappy with their provider can request an operational SPIN change. The key thing to remember is that the amount of funding the customer receives will not change if they switch providers.
  • When will my customer find out if they are approved?
    Applicants usually find out mid-year whether or not they have been approved. If services have already been installed and the customer has already been paying the full amount, the customer will receive a credit or receive the overpayment amount in a lump sum.
  • What if my customer is denied SPI funding?
    In the event of an SPI denial, Nitel will file an appeal on the customer’s behalf. We will continue providing service and billing the customer for the full amount if a contract has already been signed.
  • What is the California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) and what does it cover?
    For customers in California, CTF is available to cover 50% of the remaining cost of services. It applies to:

    • K-12 schools
    • Libraries
    • Community colleges
    • Government-owned health care providers
    • Community based-organizations

Hopefully the above questions help you guide your customers through the E-rate process. On your next E-rate opportunity, be sure to engage your Nitel channel manager, or head over to n-Tellipro to get a quote. With Nitel, we pay standard commission rates on all E-rate deals, and all spiffs and promotions apply. If you have a question we haven’t covered, please reach out to your Nitel channel manager or email our E-rate specialists at taxteam@nitelusa.com.