Every year, schools and libraries have access to billions of dollars of funding through the FCC’s E-rate program. Unfortunately, many don’t take advantage, oftentimes because of confusion over who is eligible and what services are available. In this post I’ll break down the importance of E-rate, how it works, and the types of technologies it makes available that are crucial to education.
The importance of E-rate
For students in the 21st century, it’s almost impossible to overemphasize the importance of the internet and digital learning technologies. There is a growing dependence on these resources across the U.S., and they are often seen as critical for connecting students and teachers and preparing students for lifelong learning and jobs.
With E-rate, schools and libraries serving K-12 students can ensure that students have access to the most reliable and most useful technologies on the market. No one should fall behind because of lack of funding.
E-rate provides 20 to 90 percent discounts for telecommunications, telecommunications services, internet access, internal connections, and managed internal broadband services. Depending on the service selected, E-rate also covers basic maintenance, monthly charges, installation and activation charges, and other necessary costs.
Discounts are based on a school’s poverty level, and location is also taken into consideration with rural schools and libraries sometimes receiving higher discounts. The cap for funding year 2021 was $4.276 billion.
How E-rate works
Detailed information on the application process can be found on the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) website. Funding comes from the Universal Service Fund.
In summary, applicants follow these steps:
- Schools and libraries determine eligibility
- There is eligibility criteria for schools and libraries, consortia, non-instructional facilities, non-traditional education (Head Start, pre-kindergarten, adult education, and juvenile justice programs), and Educational Service Agencies
- Competitive bidding commences
- A list of currently eligible services is available on the USAC website
- Service providers are selected
- Schools and libraries must wait at least 28 days after bidding commences before entering into an agreement with a service provider
- FCC Form 471 is filed to request discounts
- Applications are reviewed by Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) reviewers at USAC
- Services can start after the Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) is received
- FCC Form 486 is filed to inform USAC that services started
- The facility or the service provider invoices USAC for the discount share of the approved eligible services; or, pays for services and invoices USAC for reimbursement
Critical technologies for education
If you are wondering what to use E-rate funds for, here are a few ideas. While every school and library has its own strategic learning priorities, there are some technologies that will benefit everyone across the board. These focus on helping facilities create and maintain reliable, secure learning environments.
Wi-Fi network infrastructure
Wi-Fi is more and more common in schools and libraries. It supports tablets, smartphones, smartboards, laptops, and IoT devices used for everything from educational to administrative to security tasks. Improving network infrastructure will improve all Wi-Fi services. Infrastructure includes access points, switches, routers and edge platforms, and controllers.
Focusing on capabilities like firewalls keeps Personal Identifiable Information (PII) secure.
Wi-Fi optimization support
Facilities can choose to invest in Wi-Fi management and optimization platforms to both bolster on-campus IT teams and relieve IT burdens. These platforms provide 24/7 network monitoring and analytics to help reduce Wi-Fi problems and decrease resolution times. Some of them provide remote support and automatic alerts.
Additionally, the insights provided by these platforms can be used to help administrators prioritize other Wi-Fi network upgrades. For example, platforms might identify which access points need to be replaced and which are still working reliably, or track utilization changes over time to identify a school’s specific needs.
Schools and libraries can use E-rate funds to obtain or improve cloud infrastructure. This capability can help students access resources wherever there is an Internet connection, supports collaboration between administrators, teachers, and parents, and can help facilities save money on data storage.
Improve educational environments
If there have been any internet complaints at your school, library, or non-instructional facility, working with E-rate is one of the best ways to improve capabilities, support all end users, and end issues. Reliable, secure, affordable service is possible. Work with E-rate today to help achieve your educational goals.
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