In 2020 we’ve seen an enormous shift toward digital learning as schools have closed and moved to online classes and interactions during COVID-19 lockdowns. That trend is likely to continue once schools reopen and resume on-site classes, as administrators and teachers look to leverage the advantages of online learning portals and testing, digital textbooks, mobile devices, and online tools for homework, grading, and video conferencing.
However, it takes the right IT infrastructure to provide a digital learning environment, and Wi-Fi has historically been an obstacle for many schools. Slow and unreliable Wi-Fi gets in the way of providing fast and efficient Internet access and digital connectivity for students, faculty, and staff.
Fortunately, many schools across the U.S. have been able to provide fast and reliable access to Wi-Fi through the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program. The E-Rate program was established by the FCC and is administered by a non-profit corporation called the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC). It offers reduced rates and discounts on the cost of Internet access, internal connections, and managed Wi-Fi to help schools and libraries deliver the best possible digital connectivity and performance.
All public and most non-profit K-12 schools are eligible, plus both public and private libraries. An individual school or library can apply to E-Rate, but the applications can also be submitted for an entire school district or library system, or a statewide group of schools or libraries.
Under the E-Rate program, there are two categories of IT infrastructure that can be funded:
Broadband services that bring Internet access to schools and libraries via Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
Managed internal connections and broadband services such as managed Wi-Fi and wireless network services.
Category 2 is where schools can use the E-Rate program to help fund a major upgrade to their wireless networks. Discounts for eligible services in this category range from 20 to 85 percent of the total cost of a new school wireless network, helping schools purchase best-in-class hardware and services to meet their current and future Wi-Fi needs. The percent of eligibility depends on the percent of enrolled students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch prices under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The location of the school, such as an urban or rural area, is also an eligibility factor.
Once eligibility is established, you can apply for funding to help your school purchase all of its Wi-Fi and network hardware, and then add Managed Internal Broadband Services (MIBS). These are third-party services that handle all the management and maintenance of Wi-Fi and wireless networking, such as software, monitoring, technical support, repairs, and upkeep.
By using the E-Rate program and combining it with managed Wi-Fi services, schools can save as much as $100,000 or more in total costs, all while providing fast and reliable Wi-Fi with industry-leading infrastructure, eliminating the need to manage and maintain the network on your own. This is a great option for schools with limited IT resources or those that want to save money and outsource network management to dedicated experts.
Basic third-party maintenance agreements covered under E-Rate include:
- Repair and upkeep of eligible networking hardware
- Wiring and cable maintenance
- Basic technical support via online or telephone access
- Software upgrades, bug fixes, and security patches
- Configuration changes to update or manage your network
As we slowly emerge from the challenges of COVID-19 and eventually get back to school, the E-Rate program is a great way to power new digital learning capabilities with faster and more reliable Wi-Fi at a greatly reduced cost.
To learn more and explore E-Rate, and managed Wi-Fi options for your school, contact our team to schedule a quick discovery call and get expert advice and recommendations.