Federal Funding for Technology Upgrades
Meeting the growing telecommunications needs of schools and libraries on a limited budget is a real challenge. You need fast, affordable internet access and a secure, stable internal network. Remote and hybrid learning are placing additional pressure on your telecommunications equipment and services. How can you make every dollar count?
The federal E-Rate program provides eligible schools and libraries—including public schools, private schools, non-profit charter schools, school libraries with separate funding, public libraries, private libraries, academic or research libraries—with discounts on external and internal network equipment and services. These discounts range from 20 to 90 on internet access and 20 to 85 percent on internal network infrastructure. However, many schools and libraries leave this money on the table because the application process seems complex, or they aren’t sure what qualifies.
What is E-Rate?
In this video, learn about the E-Rate process and what you need to do to get the most out of this federal funding program.
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Managed Service Provider in Virginia
How E-Rate Works
E-Rate is an FCC program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The program receives about $4 billion in funding per year. Funding is made available in five-year cycles, and you can request funding in a lump sum for all five years, or to receive a portion each year. If the total of all requested funds is greater than what is available, the money is allocated to institutions by poverty rate in descending order. What should you expect throughout the process?
Competitive Bidding & Bid Selection
First, you must identify the equipment and services you need and that are eligible for the program. There are two eligible categories: Category One covers network access up to the building, while Category Two covers internal network infrastructure. We will address these in more detail later.
After identifying your needs, you can submit your request for proposals to the USAC. The USAC posts your request on its website for vendors to bid on. You must allow at least 28 days for bids to be entered. At the end of this window, you must rank bids according to an evaluation matrix that you prepare. Though you can decide which factors to include, cost-effectiveness must be one of them, and it must have the heaviest weight. After formally accepting a bid, you can work with your selected service provider to apply for discounts.
Applying for Discounts
Discounts are available to you based on the percentage of your student population that is eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In some cases, rural institutions receive higher discounts.
Applications must be submitted during an approximately two-month filing window at the beginning of each year. Your submission must include a detailed description of the requested equipment and services, information on your selected provider, and your discount calculation. Therefore, it is essential that you have all the details sorted out ahead of time to avoid missing the filing deadline.
USAC will review your application for compliance. They will check that only eligible equipment and services are included, that you can cover your portion of the costs, and that any resources that are ineligible but necessary for the project have been obtained. After your application is reviewed, you will get a decision letter.
Once you receive your decision letter, there are some details you should review with your service provider. These include what you will receive, the contract, and whether you or the provider will invoice USAC for reimbursement. In most cases, this will happen after July 1. Once you confirm with USAC that service has started, you or your service provider can invoice USAC for the discount amount.
Get the Quick Reference Sheet
Want to learn more about the E-rate process? Download our free quick reference sheet to see a quick overview the steps and deadlines involved in securing E-rate funding,
Common Mistakes Institutions Make with E-Rate
As you might expect with government funding, the application process can be complex and time-consuming. To get the most value out of the program requires that you know exactly what equipment you need, know what does and does not qualify for funding, prepare a fully specified request, and verify incoming bids meet all your requirements. This daunting process causes many institutions to not apply at all, or to make three common mistakes.
They only apply for Category One funding. Category One funding is useful, but it only covers network connections up to your buildings. You still need a way to connect all your workstations, servers, mobile devices, and VoIP phones to one another and to the outside world. That’s where Category Two funding helps—yet many organizations skip applying for it because determining what they need and what will qualify is overwhelming.
They enter an incomplete request for bids. To get the most accurate bids, you have to put out an accurate request. Often, though, institutions will put in a request that overlooks important details. For example, they will specify a wireless access point but not its required antennas. In a case like that, received bids will be difficult to compare and you may end up paying more for items that should have been included.
Common E-Rate Mistakes
How E-N Computers Can Help
As always, we aim to provide you with information that makes your technology decisions easier. In our Learning Center, you can find additional material on the E-Rate program and a variety of technologies used by school, libraries, and other organizations. We’re also happy to provide product demonstrations or answer questions on eligible technologies.
In the interest of fairness, federal law prohibits service providers from advising you during competitive bidding and bid selection. We cannot assist you with your Form 470 or evaluating bids. If we win a bid, however, we can assist you in applying for discounts and answering most application review questions. If you submitted a Form 470 and would like E-N Computers to enter a bid, please fill out the form below.
Highland County Public Schools
Highland County Public Schools had an out-of-date Aerohive wireless network which was in need of an upgrade due to the access points no longer being supported. We used the E-Rate bidding process and selected E-N Computers to perform an upgrade to Cisco Meraki access points.
The installation went off without a hitch. Our 41 access points with three new wired runs were installed in just one day and we were operational. E-N Computers also uninstalled the old access points and boxed them up for us. They cleaned the areas and provided training for the IT staff.
Highland was very pleased with the overall process of the endeavor and looks forward to working with E-N Computers again.
– Gary Lane
Technology Director, Highland County Public Schools
E-Rate Bid Notification
E-N Computers has worked with dozens of schools and libraries to upgrade their networks with the help of E-Rate funding.
If you are planning to submit a Form 470, and you would like E-N Computers to submit a bid response, please fill out the form below so our team can keep an eye out for your bid!
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