Step 2: Develop Bid Evaluation Criteria & Select Services
After determining that you are eligible, the next step is to identify the services you need and develop the bid evaluation criteria you will use to assess service provider bids by completing the FCC Form 461 (Request for Services Form). The FCC Form 461 provides information about the requested services, network equipment, and/or facilities to enable an effective competitive bidding process.
Note: This process differs from the Telecom Program, where the eligibility certification and request for services are combined on one form—the FCC Form 465.
You may submit your FCC Form 461 one year before the funding year begins (e.g. for FY2024, you can submit your FCC Form 461 as early as July 3, 2023). Once your FCC Form 461 is approved, it must be posted on the USAC public website for a minimum of 28 days before you can select a service provider and sign a contract. All posted services are available on the USAC public website for service providers to view and download. Service providers interested in providing your site with the requested services will respond to your posting with a bid demonstrating how they meet your evaluation criteria.
You must file the FCC Form 461 unless you meet one of the competitive bidding exemptions. To learn more, visit the exemptions page.
Requesting Services with the FCC Form 461
The FCC Form 461 allows you to describe your service needs and request bids from service providers. You must submit your FY2023 FCC Form 461 through RHC Connect, the Rural Health Care (RHC) program’s online application management system. It is helpful to have prepared your evaluation criteria and supporting documentation prior to completing the FCC Form 461 in RHC Connect, more information about those sections of the form are below.
The general information fields will prepopulate from the FCC Form 460, so please be sure that your site information is correct on the FCC Form 460, If you find any errors, you must complete an FCC Form 460 revision and wait for it to be approved prior to submitting the FCC Form 461. Once your form is approved, it is posted to the USAC public website for service providers to view and then respond to you with their bids to provide you services.
For FY2024, you are required to list each service requested on the FCC Form 461.
To comply with a fair and open competitive bidding process, the FCC Form 461 should describe the services and equipment the site needs with enough detail so that interested service providers can submit complete bids. You should select the general categories of services needed on the FCC Form 461, including the minimum and maximum bandwidths, and if further explanation is required, include a Request for Proposal (RFP) or supporting documentation such as a network diagram to explain all service requirements (i.e. circuit locations, network).
If you are requesting services for multiple circuits, you can select each service that you’re requesting (e.g. data) and enter the minimum and maximum bandwidth for all of the circuits. Please be aware that you must also upload a document describing each circuit. Information must be provided with enough specificity to allow service providers to fully understand your needs. Most often, this would be part of a Request for Proposal (RFP) but you could include network diagrams or a spreadsheet that provides the details of each circuit in your network.
Include the following documentation with your FCC Form 461 submission:
- Bid evaluation criteria and a scoring matrix demonstrating how you will choose a service provider
- Bid disqualification factors (if applicable)
- Declaration of assistance
- Request for Proposal (if applicable)
- Network Plan (consortia only)
- Letters of Agency (consortia who have not already submitted an LOA or have an expired LOA)
When the FCC Form 461 is approved, USAC will email a confirmation to the account holders, which includes the posting date and the date that you can enter into a contract with the selected service provider. This date is called the Allowable Contract Selection Date (ACSD). You must not agree to receive services or sign a contract with a service provider until the ACSD. If you select a service provider before the ACSD, USAC will deny your funding request.
Developing Bid Evaluation Criteria
The bid evaluation criteria you develop will determine how you will evaluate the bids you receive from services providers and must be included on the FCC Form 461.
The bid evaluation criteria should include the factors that you deem most important for your site to provide health care.
You must develop weighted bid evaluation criteria that demonstrate how you will choose the most “cost-effective” bid, based on the FCC’s definition of “cost-effective.” The FCC defines this as the method that “costs the least after consideration of the features, quality of transmission, reliability, and other factors that the health care provider (HCP) deems relevant to choosing a method of providing the required health care services.”
Cost must be a primary factor, but need not be the only primary factor. Other factors may receive the same weight as cost, but no single factor can receive a weight greater than cost. The sum of the weights must equal 100%. You must use the criteria that you listed on the FCC Form 461 to evaluate and score each bid when selecting a vendor.
Other criteria commonly included on the FCC Form 461 include:
- Technical support,
- Quality of transmission,
- Reliability, and
- Service provider to provide a single point of contact
More complex projects, such as those that involve designing or constructing a new network or building upon an existing network, may include non-price factors in their evaluation criteria, such as:
- Prior experience, including past performance;
- Personnel qualifications, including technical excellence;
- Management capability, including solicitation compliance; and
- Environmental objectives (if appropriate).
- You must use the criteria that you choose and list on the FCC Form 461 to evaluate and score each bid when selecting a vendor.
For FY2024 and forward, you will be required to list the minimum requirements for each criteria listed. For example, if one of your bid evaluation factors is “Prior Experience” you could list “at least three references within the state” as a minimum requirement. Service providers responding to your bid would be required to include the three references in their bid to be considered.
The following example meets program guidelines, as cost is weighted higher than any other single factor, it also lists minimum requirements where applicable:
|Prior Experience||20%||At least 3 references within the state when providing similar services|
|Technical Support||20%||Single Point of Contact|
For FY2024, you are required to list any disqualification factors that you will use to remove a bid from consideration.
Please keep in mind program rules when listing disqualification factors. For example, a factor could be “will not work with vendors who use equipment or services from covered companies.” Which would eliminate any service providers or vendors violating the FCC Order 19-121 . The Order adopts a new rule that no universal service support may be used to purchase, obtain, maintain, improve, modify, or otherwise support any equipment or services produced or provided by companies that pose a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or the communications supply chain. The FCC initially designated Huawei Technologies Company and ZTE Corporation as companies covered by this Order.
As a reminder, your FCC Form 461 must be posted to the USAC website for a minimum of 28 days. You have the option to enter more than 28 days for competitive bidding on the FCC Form 461 before submission. You may not enter into any service agreement with a service provider until the minimum 28 day bidding period is complete.
Note: Requests for extensions must be submitted at least 7 days in advance of the original end date of the FCC Form 461. Please plan accordingly.
RFPs and Network Plans
Request for Proposal
A request for proposal (RFP) is supporting documentation that describes a project and requests services in detail so that potential bidders understand the scope, location, and any other service requirements. Not every FCC Form 461 requires an RFP, but it can provide an opportunity for you to specify your business needs and service requirements in more detail.
You must submit an RFP:
- if it is required to issue an RFP under applicable state, Tribal, or local procurement rules or regulations;
- if you are a consortium seeking more than $100,000 in program support during the funding year, including applications that seek more than $100,000 in program support for a multi-year commitment; or
- if you are a consortium seeking support for participant-constructed and owned network facilities.
If you do use an RFP for competitive bidding (per requirements or voluntarily), you must include it with your FCC Form 461 submission. When an RFP accompanies an FCC Form 461 submission, USAC will review the RFP to identify discrepancies and areas of potential non-compliance with competitive bidding requirements and provide applicants with recommendations on how to address areas of concern. The review conducted by USAC does not guarantee that the RFP is fully compliant. It is the sole responsibility of the applicant to ensure that its request for services and any accompanying documentation comply with all RHC program rules and applicable to any state, Tribal, or local procurement rules or regulations. USAC does not approve RFPs. To learn more, visit the Request for Proposal page.
Network Plan (Consortia Requirement)
If applying as a consortium, you must submit a narrative with the FCC Form 461 that describes specific elements of your network plan. The network plan is separate from the RFP, and submission of this information is a minimum requirement, not a scoring metric. To learn more, visit the Network Plan page.
Things to Remember
Conduct a fair and open competitive bidding process: All potential bidders and service providers must have access to the same information and must be treated in the in the same manner. Potential bidders and service providers are prohibited from (1) assisting with an HCP’s FCC Form 461 documents; (2) being involved in setting the bid evaluation criteria; and (3) participating in the bid evaluation or vendor selection process.
Avoid conflicts of interest: Before developing bid evaluation criteria, be sure to avoid potential conflicts of interest that could result in the denial of funding. For example, a conflict of interest exists when your consultant is also associated with the selected service provider and was involved in determining the services you sought the selection of your service provider(s).
RHC program rules also prohibit service providers that are submitting bids from having any involvement in the competitive bidding process and/or the submission of the FCC Form 461.
Exercise caution during contract modifications: Some contract modifications require that you go through a new competitive bidding process before adopting the modification. View the contract modifications page to see if the change(s) you are requesting requires a new competitive bidding process.
The material on these webpages is provided for general information only and should not be relied upon or used as the sole basis for making decisions without consulting the RHC program rules, orders, and other primary sources of information. Applicants and service providers are ultimately responsible for knowing and complying with all RHC program rules and procedures.