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How to Improve Your Next School Wireless Network Refresh with E-rate

60% of school wireless networks lack the proper infrastructure needed to deploy and support the necessary tools for today's modern learning environment. It’s hard to believe but according to the FCC this stat is true. Since the mid-90’s the E-rate program (Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries) has been trying to solve this major issue. Despite the overwhelming need, E-rate has still managed to connect about 52.2 million students across the United States. Some estimating this number to be around 1 million classrooms. When it comes to funding your wireless network upgrades it’s never easy and the E-rate program isn’t exactly the easiest process.E-rate, E-rate Service Provider, funding school wifi with erate,

For the first time in 18 years the E-rate program has been given an overhaul to finally put a large dent in that 60%. On July 23rd 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced there will be at least $2 billion dollars allocated specifically for Wi-Fi over the next 2 years (2015 and 2016). This news was in addition to a slew of other important changes to the E-rate program, which you can read the full list here.

Before you apply it’s important to have a firm grasp of what the E-rate program is. Below is an outline of the E-rate program and what you should know before you get started.

What is E-rate?

E-rate is a government program that offers reduced rates or discounts on telecommunications, internet access and internal connections to both schools and libraries, this includes the maintenance to those systems as well.

What Types of Wireless Equipment can be Funded?

Other than who is eligible for the program, what is covered by E-rate is probably the most important question schools have. What gets funded is split into two different categories, category one and category two.

Also Read | "Funding Your School Wireless Network: 17 Significant E-rate Updates"

Category one covers telecommunications and broadband services or bringing internet access to the building or location. Category two focuses on internal connections or Wi-Fi. The new modernization rules while it affects the entire program, we’re focusing on category two changes or the Wi-Fi side of things.

Below is a list of what’s covered under category two:

**It should be noted that this list is a draft list. The official ESL (Eligible Service List) will not be available until sometime in October 2014 so these services may change.**

Accepted Broadband Internal Connections Components

  • Access points used in a local area network (LAN) or wireless local area network (WLAN) environment
  • Cabling, connectors, and related components used for internal broadband connections
  • Caching 
  • Firewalls used to ensure the continued operation of eligible equipment by protecting equipment from security hazards
  • Network switches
  • Routers
  • Racks that support eligible internal connections components
  • Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)/Battery Backup necessary for basic power protection for eligible equipment
  • Wireless LAN Controllers
  • Software necessary to support this list of eligible broadband internal connections components, including Client Access 
  • Licenses for LAN/WLAN networks
  • Improvements and upgrades to components on this list of eligible broadband internal connections

It should be noted that the components above that can be virtualized and equipment that combines those functionalities for example routing and switching are also eligible for E-rate funding.erate, E-rate Service Provider, School Wireless Networks, wifi companies

In addition to the components above the E-rate program also covers “managed Wi-Fi” officially referred to as “Internal Broadband Services” and “Basic Maintenance of Eligible Broadband Internal Connection Components”.

Below is a list of the eligible “managed Wi-Fi” services and Basic Maintenance:

Managed Wi-Fi

  • Services provided by a third party for the operation, management, and/or monitoring of eligible broadband internal connections components.
  • For example, managed Wi-Fi might include services necessary to manage and repair the LAN/WLAN network, such as diagnostic services, 24-hour network monitoring, or helpdesk support.

Basic Maintenance

  • Repair and upkeep of eligible hardware
  • Wire and cable maintenance
  • Configuration changes 
  • Basic technical support including online and telephone based technical support 
  • Software upgrades and patches including bug fixes and security patches
  • It needs to be stated that all of the above is due for comment and further clarification from the FCC, so be sure to check with the USAC and/or FCC for the latest information.

Who is Eligible for the program?

The E-rate program is available to public K-12 schools and most if not all non-profit K-12 schools as well as public libraries and many private libraries too. The program helps to fund services by allowing organizations to receive discounts on eligible services.

What discounts are provided under E-rate?

The discounts for eligible services in category two range from 20% to 85% of monies spent with an erate service provider. The percent of eligibility depends on the demographical and location of the organization.

Here’s an example of how the discounts work:

Let’s say your school qualifies for E-rate funding at 85% and that in order to get Wi-Fi to every classroom at your school you need to spend $100,000 on “Internal Connections” which is fundable under the E-rate program. E-rate would fund $85,000 and the school would be liable to pay for $15,000. (Well worth the pain of going through the E-rate process I’d say).

When it comes to bringing the latest wireless technology into your school or school district understanding and utilizing the E-rate program should be on the top of your to do list.

As an erate service provider we have helped hundreds of schools design and deploy their wireless networks. If you need any help with your design or wireless planning we’re here to help, simply contact us here.

school wireless networks planning for E-Rate FY2016
Danny Mareco

Danny Mareco

Danny is the Marketing Manager at SecurEdge Networks. This basically means it’s his mission in life to make sure you have the secure mobility tools and resources that you actually want and can use. P.S. He also loves a good craft beer.