A key feature of E-rate’s competitive bidding rules is that the school/library buyer remains “open and fair” throughout the process. This means that there can be no secrets, exclusivity, or special treatment with any of the vendors providing offers to you.
It means that all bidders are treated the same, and all have access to the same information.
Avoid these common mistakes!
The process is sensitive to manage, and is very different from making a personal/private purchase decision. Staying neutral and treating all vendors equally can be challenging, especially if you are new to competitive bidding.
Here are some common mistakes and misconceptions, and what you should do instead:
|Common mistake||Do this instead!||Why?|
|Tell a few vendors extra details about your needs beyond what you included on FCC Form 470.||If you share information with one potential vendor, send/share it with all the other vendors, too.||Avoid giving any vendor an unfair advantage.|
|Answer a vendor’s questions in a private correspondence.||Collect a list of their questions, and send the answers to all of the other potential vendors too.||Avoid giving any vendor an unfair advantage.|
|Wait several days or weeks to answer a vendor’s questions.||Answer questions as soon as possible.||Waiting too long may affect the vendor’s ability to bid within the 28-day period.|
|Tell a vendor who else you’re talking with, or what other bids you’ve received.||Don’t ever tell a vendor who their competition is.||Vendors may be familiar with each other’s pricing; it can affect the bid they provide.|
|Meet in private with a vendor.||Only meet with vendors in “open meetings,” and offer open meetings on multiple dates.||Avoiding letting any vendor hear information that wasn’t available to all potential vendors.|
|Accept gifts, offers, kick-back, or free products/services with a retail value of $20 or more.||Think twice before you accept anything from a vendor in excess of what’s on your FCC Form 470, even meals and small items.||It is explicitly against program rules to accept gifts or free services from vendors.|
|Call vendors and ask them to bid on your proposal.||Only call vendors and ask for bids if you don’t receive bids during the 28-day period.||Calling vendors can be considered an unfair advantage. Reserve this for times when you do not receive any bids.|
|Throw away information about the losing bids.||Keep all documentation about the winning and losing bids.||You’ll need it if the program asks for proof that your process was open and fair.|
The best advice we have for remaining open and fair is to design an evaluation process in advance (who will do it, and how?), and stick to it.
Document that it was open and fair
Sometimes, the E-rate Program will ask for proof that your competitive bidding process was open and fair. To be prepared, we recommend keeping all documentation about all winning and losing bids.
The types of documents you should keep are:
- The request for proposal (RFP), if you used one*
- Copies of all the bids you received
- The list of questions from potential bidders, and your answers
- Correspondence between you and potential vendors
- A list of your vendor selection criteria
- All completed bid evaluation matrices
- The contract, if you sign one
* Required documentation