The Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, commonly referred to as E-Rate, is a federally funded grant program aimed at ensuring all school systems have access to stable internet connections and internet access throughout the campus. As the needs of modern education grow and change, the need for reliable internet access within all school systems is becoming increasingly important.
The program, founded in the United States in 1996, has been largely successful in delivering internet access to all schools. At its inception, only 12% of K-12 schools had access to stable broadband and now all of them do. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has since broadened the horizons of the program, increasing the spending cap to $3.9 million to ensure that the new solutions included in the program can be brought to fruition across the country.
In 2014, the FCC revised the program to include telecommunications, telecommunications services, internet access, internal connections, and the basic maintenance of internal connections. As a part of the program’s reboot, school districts can now apply for E-Rate funding to help cover the costs of high-speed broadband connections, telecommunications services, and the devices required to implement such solutions.
But what does that mean for your school? The rest of this article outlines the types of products and services covered under E-Rate, how to check eligibility for the program, and how to apply for a grant for your school.
Eligible Products and Services
The list of eligible products and services covered under the E-Rate program is divided into two categories: labeled Category One and Category Two. The first category includes the products and services meant to bring stable broadband infrastructure to a school, while the second includes the internal connections needed to maintain a high level of internet access. This includes upgrades to existing equipment, where applicable.
In this category, the main focus is getting internet connectivity to a school. This includes the data links that connect to multiple buildings, the services used to turn up internet connectivity, and services that provide a conduit to buildings that require it. Within this category, basic maintenance services required to continue the reliable operations of the provided services are also covered.
Some examples of the products and services covered under Category One are as follows:
- Broadband over power lines
- Cable modems
- Leased lit or leased dark fiber
- Telephone dial-up
This second category of the E-Rate program covers the internal connections necessary to run the equipment used to power today’s digital learning solutions. This means that in addition to bringing internet connectivity to a school or library, now the cabling and equipment used to power ethernet and wireless connections are also eligible. Much like in Category One, the maintenance costs associated with supporting this equipment is also covered.
Some examples of the products and services covered under Category Two are as follows:
- Antennas, connectors, or other related equipment needed for broadband connectivity
- Firewall services and firewall components separate from basic firewall services provided by ISP provider
- UPS/battery backups
- Wireless LAN access points
- Wireless controller systems
There are certain criteria your school or library must meet to be deemed eligible to receive benefits associated with the E-Rate program. These criteria are put into place to ensure funding is distributed only to those that truly require the resources.
The primary criteria for determining E-Rate eligibility includes:
- Classification as an elementary or secondary school
- Verification that the school(s) are not operating as a for-profit entity
- Verification that the school in question does not have endowments exceeding $50 million
- Must be eligible for assistance from a State Library Administrative Agency
- The library budget must be separate from any school system (elementary, secondary, or university)
How to Apply
The application process for E-Rate discounts on products and services is fairly simple. You’ll need to fill out Form 471, which will require you to identify the products and providers you are submitting for the discount, so you’ll need to make those decisions before you apply. Here are a few tips for filling out your Form 471.
Have Questions About E-Rate?
Through this program, schools can obtain up to 90% off eligible products and services, making it an extremely attractive offer. Working with a vendor that not only knows the application process but understands the products and solutions eligible for the discount will save your school time and help you choose the solutions that best meet your needs. With such substantial savings, upgrading your wireless or broadband infrastructure is a no-brainer.
Our team at Peters & Associates can help you navigate the application, purchasing, design, and installation process needed to upgrade your wireless and internet infrastructure with the help of E-Rate. We understand the nuances of the program, and we have the technical know-how to deliver a top-notch wireless solution that fits your unique needs.
Not sure which solutions you need? We created an education resource page to provide you with additional information.
We are always available to provide you with personal assistance. Contact us to request an assessment of your school’s IT setup to get started today.