How schools can use E-rate funding to improve network performance

 In Hardware, Networking

Now, more than ever, it’s important for schools to make sure they have a reliable network, one that is fast, stable, and up to date. Unfortunately, as much as schools would love to upgrade to a stronger and more secure network, for most, it’s not in the budget.

That’s where the E-rate program comes in.

What is the E-rate program?

The E-rate program, also known as the Schools and Libraries Program, is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) in order to make sure eligible schools and libraries have the opportunity to secure affordable internet access and telecommunications.

“Discounts range from 20 to 90 percent, with high discounts for higher poverty and rural schools and libraries,” according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Fixing the network problem

As part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, schools are required have a wired network in place that is built to grow for five years, ensuring that the network is able to expand with the needs and population of the school.

That’s easier said than done. Weak internet connections are a common issue among schools, one that can be traced to a handful of causes that might go undetected by a school’s IT department.

Luckily, these problems can be fixed with financial assistance from E-rate Category 1 or Category 2 funding.

4 overlooked issues

Eligible schools can use Category 1 E-rate funding to address the issues dealing with “data transmission services and internet access, and voice services.” Category 2 E-rate funding deals with all networking components, including wireless access points, switches, routers, and racks. The following issues, which will contribute to weak internet connectivity, can be resolved with Category 1 or Category 2 funding, depending on the customer’s project:

  1. Inadequate infrastructure – Introducing new devices into the school without first ensuring the network (internet bandwidth, firewall, switches, wireless access points, etc.) can handle the increased traffic is a setup for frustration.
  2. Not enough wireless access points – Many districts are increasing devices from single computer labs to 1:1 initiatives. Given this change, there should be wireless access points in every classroom and communal space (library, cafeteria, gym, auditorium, etc.).
  3. Consumer-grade equipment – Hundred or thousands of devices might be accessing the network simultaneously. Consumer-grade access points cannot handle this. Schools need to upgrade to enterprise-class equipment to ensure traffic is supported efficiently and effectively.
  4. Insecure visitor network – Many districts lack a separate network for visitors and guests. This is a problem. The wireless network for guests needs to be implemented independently of the main school network, ensuring guests can’t just join the main network–or potentially hack it. This change will protect the network on multiple levels.

A better network is necessary and possible

Schools without a proper network are falling behind. They’re leaving themselves open to possible cybersecurity attacks and hindering their ability to properly respond to physical attacks. A better network would give them greater access control for communication, allowing for increased response time, the capability to lock doors, and proper video surveillance.

Security precautions might be the driving force behind a school’s willingness to update its network, but it’s important to remember that security – both physical and cyber – and academics, in terms of the need for a fast and up-to-date network, are interconnected. Large schools can’t afford downtime and a better network gives teachers and students access to more advanced technology features, like video conferencing.

Oftentimes, schools don’t even ask about certain products because they don’t believe the funding is out there. However, with the availability of programs like E-rate, creative financing options are attainable.

The current E-rate funding period runs from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, and the deadline to apply for E-rate funding falls at the end of February 2019 (possibly March 2019, depending on word from USAC). SHI is an authorized Service Provider for E-rate. Reach out to your SHI account executive to learn how SHI can help your school or library implement technology improvements through the program.

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