Step 2: Develop Evaluation Criteria & Select Services
After determining that you are eligible, the next step is to identify the services you need and develop the evaluation criteria that 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 be exempt from the competitive bidding process if you meet certain requirements. To learn more, visit the exemptions page.
Develop 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 (Request for Services Form).
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.”
Price must be a primary factor, but need not be the only primary factor. Other factors may receive the same weight as price, but no single factor can receive a weight greater than price. 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:
- Quality of transmission,
- Reliability, and
- Technical support.
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).
FCC Form 461 Supporting Documentation
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 requirements. Not every FCC Form 461 requires an RFP, but it can provide an opportunity for you to specify requirements about your site’s needs in more detail.
You must submit an RFP:
(1) if it is required to issue an RFP under applicable state, Tribal, or local procurement rules or regulations;
(2) 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
(3) 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. 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.
Request Services with the FCC Form 461
After preparing the evaluation criteria and supporting documentation, you can file the FCC Form 461. This form allows you to describe your service needs and request bids from service providers. You must file the FCC Form 461 unless you meet one or more of the competitive bidding exemptions.
You may submit the FCC Form 461 as early as 180 days before the beginning of the funding year. The form must be posted on USAC’s website for at least 28 days before you can select a service provider. 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 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.
Supporting Documentation: Include the following documentation with your FCC Form 461 submission:
- Bid evaluation criteria and a 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)
Submit the FCC Form 461 through My Portal, the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program’s application management system.
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.