Keys to unlocking the most value from new e-rate funding.
GUEST COLUMN | by Jason King
As many children and teachers head back to school, they are bringing with them a plethora of wireless devices to use as educational tools in the classroom. They are also bringing with them great connectivity expectations. While the quality and availability of wireless connectivity may not be a concern at some K-12 institutions, there are still many schools and libraries struggling to find affordable wireless services and provide reliable Wi-Fi to students, faculty and guests.
The FCC recently made the most sweeping changes to the E-Rate program in 18 years, greatly expanding the opportunity for K-12 school districts to implement Wi-Fi.
To help address this issue, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) developed the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, commonly known as the E-Rate program. The program’s goal is to help schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications services, broadband Internet access and internal network connections. The E-Rate program provides discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent of the costs of eligible services.
The FCC recently made the most sweeping changes to the E-Rate program in 18 years, greatly expanding the opportunity for K-12 school districts to implement ubiquitous Wi-Fi access. It includes an additional $2 billion in funding for Wi-Fi projects over the next two years, and $5 billion over the next five years. Rural and urban school districts will most benefit from this new support, as the eligibility for E-Rate is based on the percentage of students in the district eligible for the National School Lunch Program.
However, no matter how much funding is increased or how it is distributed, it remains crucial that schools and libraries carefully consider how to best utilize support they receive. Luckily, the recent E-Rate changes included new coverage for a Wi-Fi option that might be the most cost-effective solution yet. The latest program approved managed Wi-Fi services as an alternative to on-premise managed wireless solutions. The updated program allocates a budget of $150 per student over five years, or $30 per student annually for managed Wi-Fi.
When looking at the updated changes, which are outlined in a 176 page document, there are some key considerations for school districts to look at to ensure they are fully taking advantage of this new funding:
Complete Maintenance: With most schools and libraries suffering from limited IT staffs, they should be careful in choosing a vendor which provides a complete maintenance solution, such as 24/7 proactive network monitoring and Help Desk support. These options offload the burden of dealing with end-user Wi-Fi connectivity issues from internal IT staff, allowing them to focus on more important issues.
Advanced Flexibility: For those districts that are looking for additional flexibility, they should consider a solution that will allow them to freely migrate between a public cloud and private cloud Wi-Fi option. This service model provides them with an ongoing option to either maintain control on-site or offload that management to a service provider. The ability to migrate between the two models enables a school or library to easily and quickly make changes to how they manage IT based on need, cost and more.
Avoid Extra Fees: Many wireless solutions and platforms hide extra licensing fees for features such as guest access, high availability and intrusion detection, which are critical to a school environment. Schools and libraries leveraging the E-Rate program must carefully consider which solution will cost-effectively meet their networking needs today and in the future, without hamstringing them with add-on licensing feeds.
Adherence to SLAs: Service Level Agreements (SLAs) guarantee a certain level of performance for any data or application crossing the wireless network. It is crucial to ensure that your vendor provides a strong adherence to SLA standards, or you could end up with poor quality of service for end users, and— in the event of a service outage or emergency — long response times and/or complicated issue resolution procedures.
Security: Proper security requirements need to be identified by district officials and IT staff and shared with your wireless vendor. Regardless of whether you are deploying on-premise or managed Wi-Fi, security parameters must be met. For example, an important feature for Wi-Fi setting is the ability to assign role-based access. This function distinguishes between a teacher and student role, and assigns a different set of policies and access rights to each.
While it’s likely that schools and libraries will continue to face funding challenges, the E-Rate program is making a difference for many communities. Whether your school or library is considering purchasing and managing on-premise wireless infrastructure or leaning towards a managed Wi-Fi service, it’s important to carefully define the features and capabilities that matter most to your students and staff. More importantly, it is crucial to find a solutions vendor that understands those goals and can seamlessly meet them. Together you can unleash the potential power of your wireless network and the educational resources in your community.
Jason King is the director of marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter: @jjking24