8×8 is one of many companies that provide “communications as a service,” said Huw Rees, vice president of customer advocacy for 8×8. He said the only equipment schools need to take advantage of the company’s service are IP phones, “softphone” software for making a call through a Mac or PC, or a mobile app for iOS or Android devices. All the necessary call routing software resides in the company’s data centers, so there is nothing for schools to maintain.

8×8 charges schools on a per-extension basis, and its VoIP service includes features such as auto-attendant service (call routing) and voice mail to eMail. These additional features are bundled into the cost of the service, which averages $20 to $25 per extension, per month, Rees said.

Schools looking for more affordable voice options “should definitely do the math” when comparing services, he said—but he argued that a hosted VoIP solution can be “not just less expensive, but also much easier to budget for.” With a premise-based solution, such as a private branch exchange (PBX) system, schools could incur extra costs for adding, changing, or replacing services, he explained.

Potential benefits aside, some school leaders have concerns about the availability of VoIP solutions in an emergency.

“Landline phones are required for essential safety features such as elevator car communications in the event of a breakdown and connections of emergency services in the event of disaster,” said Lachlan Tidmarsh, chief information officer for the Chicago Public Schools, in comments to the FCC.

Jennifer Gardner, director of IT, finance, and subsidies for the School District of Philadelphia, wrote this to the FCC: “The telephony infrastructure in all [Philadelphia] schools was designed around current eRate program rules, and … the elimination of voice telephone service as an eligible service would be of great hardship and would pose a direct risk to the safety and security of students and teachers.”

She continued: “Traditional voice service … is a proven, reliable, and cost-effective solution for bringing telephony services to schools and classrooms. … [We’ve] found that even the largest telecommunications carriers in Philadelphia still cannot deliver VoIP-based telephony to buildings and/or directly to classrooms in a more cost-favorable manner than traditional analog services.”

See also:

A $5 billion bounty: How to use eRate support for Wi-Fi

New eRate rules invite a new approach: Managed Wi-Fi

Part four of this series will look at the impact of the new eRate rules on email and web hosting services. Part five will examine other rule changes, including a new way to calculate your discount percentage. Watch www.eschoolnews.com every Tuesday through Sept. 9 for more information.