New E-Rate Program Provides Network Funding for US Schools and Libraries

August 20, 2014 Bob Nilsson

As school administrators and IT departments have been enjoying summer vacation this year, the federal government through the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has provided school districts across the country with an early holiday gift. Beginning in the 2015 financial school year (July 2015), all districts will be eligible for funding via the E-rate program with the intent to expand Wi-Fi to more than 10 million students in 2015 alone. The program provides funding to deliver increased Internet bandwidth to mobile devices, including BYOD and 1:1 initiatives. Here is an E-rate update for districts to begin planning and take action now!

Every district, regardless of size, location, and social economic standing will be eligible to receive funding to improve their network infrastructure as long as they appropriately file per the rules of Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) who administers the E-rate program.  Funding is available for network hardware, software, and licensing needed to provide Internet access to district and student owned devices.  This includes wireless access points, controllers, switching, software, and cabling to support wireless infrastructure.

The budgets in regard to E-rate will need to be planned for a five-year period, FY2015- FY2019 using the following formula. Each district’s discount % is calculated based on the number of students in the district that participate in the free and reduced lunch program. This yields the TOTAL amount available to the district over a 5-year period.

# Students enrolled $150 x discount %

Here is an example: a district has 1,000 students and the E-rate program has determined that the district discount rate is 60%.  The total committed investment is 1,000 students * $150 = $150,000 for the five years.  Applying the discount of 60%, the E-rate program will fund $90,000 ($150,000 *.60 discount rate) and the district will be responsible for the remaining $60,000 from their own funding sources for the total of the $150,000 committed via the program.  Each district must commit to their portion of the total expense.

The program is managed by USAC and the filing process for receiving funds has not changed from the previous year.  Check the website for detailed information about the overall process. You begin the process by filing a Form 470 that is basically a request for quote (RFQ) to service providers to respond with what you have identified for purchase in year one.  Most districts start this process in the late September / October timeframe. Traditionally, funds requested by the district in October, 2014 would not begin to be paid out until July, 2015, but a nice change is that USAC is allowing purchase orders in April, 2015. This means that districts can be better equipped to plan and execute their summer projects and install purchased equipment earlier.

Work with your network service provider to put together a five-year plan that supports your total network and technology strategy. Initiatives including online testing via PARCC or Smarter Balanced, flipped classroom learning models, connected classrooms, and others require a robust network infrastructure to be successful. Just slapping together a bunch of new access points will be certain to disappoint. Think of this as a five-year network upgrade project , jointly funded by E-rate and the district, to provide the performance, user experience, scalability, visibility, and ease of management that is required to deliver quality education to your students.

Your school district leadership team should consider multiple funding sources for the continual support of your network infrastructure.  Just like with a major purchase of a new car, you might consider pooling money from multiple sources: savings, gifts and possibly a bank loan. Many school networks have become overtaxed by more and more devices. Even though your staff has a growing reliance on digital tools and technology to deliver instruction, budgets have been shrinking. Historically, programs like E-rate have been heavily relied on by qualifying schools to provide network funding, but have been unavailable to the majority of US school districts. This E-rate modernization now brings an added funding source to districts which may not have qualified for support in the past.

Extreme Networks can help design your network roadmap to maximize this funding opportunity and turn your network into a vital learning tool in your district.  Never before have reliable, high speed networks had more impact on learning outcomes.  State programs that focus on digital transformation of instruction re-enforce the importance of having a fast and dependable Internet connection.  Online testing, digital textbooks, and anytime-anywhere learning require a healthy and reliable network. You need to be able to adapt, automate and strategically add to your network to maximize the benefits of all your other technology investments.

Highlights of the E-Rate Modernization Order

  • $1 billion in annual support for internal connections.
  • Additional funding above the cap is available to help close the Wi-Fi gap.
  • New Terminology: Category One and Category Two.
    • Changed from “Priority” system.
    • Category One includes services that support connectivity.
    • Category Two supports eligible internal connections.
    • Traditional voice services are being phased out, 20% less each year, beginning with FY2015
  • The highest discount for Category Two is 85%
    • Schools pay minimum of 15% of the project total.
    • Minimum amount you can apply for is $9,200.

This blog was co-authored by Tracy Hill, Glenn Mitchell, and Bob Nilsson

The post New E-Rate Program Provides Network Funding for US Schools and Libraries appeared first on Extreme Networks.

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