Once, E-rate’s purpose was to help schools and libraries have access to the internet. Now, thankfully, access to the internet isn’t the biggest concern, but good network security and networks that can handle high volumes of traffic take priority as culture and technology have changed.
What is E-rate’s New Focus?
If you aren’t familiar with the FCC’s E-rate program, it was designed to help elevate the number of educational and public institutions reaching the internet and information in regions that were struggling due to infrastructure and funding gaps. In 2014, E-rate funding received a new mandate to get broadband into qualifying institutions and to help institutions offer quality Wi-Fi that could handle streaming and other forms of larger data commitments. That means that schools and libraries in high-cost areas (such as rural areas with limited access to technology due to distance or infrastructure) can get broadband in lit or dark fiber, even if that means they build connections for themselves when it’s the best affordable option.
Even better, E-rate funding can be used to bulk up or create Wi-Fi networks inside schools and libraries so that learners can access greener learning platforms with additional resources, like Khan Academy or YouTube based lessons. Another E-rate communication networks benefit is that it helps learners who lack financial means to live-streaming learning/tutoring or video-based lessons by providing improved access to networks outside their homes for those lessons. A side benefit to note, E-rate funding for schools helps to free up other funds so that schools and libraries can purchase more devices, leading to a better device to user ratio.
In real-world talk, if a school uses E-rate funds to make their Wi-Fi better, they can stream live after-school tutoring sessions via Skype, offer YouTube through Google Classroom, and also have more funds to buy iPads and other devices or resources for those after school sessions.
E-rate eligibility is broken down into two types. Category one includes services associated with broadband access. This refers primarily to a reliable high-speed internet connection, such as fiber (when available) or cable. Category two services relate to internal networking equipment, such as routers, switches, access points, hubs, and so on. In even better news, category two services include managed internal broadband service (MIBS) and basic maintenance of internal connections (BMIC), which can provide additional funding for third-party technical support, system configuration and patches.
The secondary category includes fixed-price service contracts which are a little more complex and are typically not covered unless other services are broken and can only be partially allocated. Real world applications mean public libraries can pay for MIBS or a school can upgrade network capabilities for better security and privacy. It also means that a biology class in Cairo could participate with a class from Peoria during a lecture and a learning session about reptiles provided by Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago thanks to upgraded Wi-Fi and broadband capacity.
How Can E-rate Help?
Schools eligible for E-rate funding can have a 20-90% savings at their ISP. That’s huge. Especially if there are multiple buildings in the group. Reallocating the funds that would be spent into new budget uses allows much more freedom and flexibility to expand other school and library programs. Those funds can put actual devices in the hands of learners. They can put more courses in the curriculum.
Classrooms that used to ration data use by not participating in streaming services or live events can expand into green classrooms and experience-based learning opportunities. Schools that don’t have field trip opportunities can have virtual field trips with institutions ranging from the Smithsonian to international museums, exhibits and other institutions.
Libraries can offer services to students with limited access at home so they can get the tutoring help they need. Libraries can offer additional foreign language learning or expand career education. The funds that would have been used to provide basic connections can be used in new ways to support the learning mission.
Interested in E-rate? Things to Think About Before Applying:
- Check eligibility.
- Understand what is available.
- Understand coverage of the necessary costs.
- Have all the right entity numbers.
- Know the application process.
- Understand the needs of the program and make the case.
It may help to work with an outside vendor, like CDS Office Technologies, to evaluate your program’s broadband and Wi-Fi networking needs. We can identify gaps and make a plan to find new E-rate funding opportunities to move forward.