by Catherine Banker, Director of Education Services, VectorUSA

Catherine Banker, Director of Education Services, VectorUSA

Over the past couple of decades, technology and education have forged an undeniably strong bond that provides K-12 students phenomenal opportunities for growth and learning.

Along with that, making sure that the right IT solutions for schools and city libraries are in place continues to expand in scope and importance. However, keeping up with ongoing advances in technology— especially when districts and libraries are faced with fixed or declining budgets — takes a considerable amount of money.

Fortunately, schools and libraries have access to the FCC’s E-Rate program. With funding administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), E-Rate makes telecommunications, Internet access, and information services much more affordable.

In this post, we’ll examine how your school or library can get the most out of the beneficial E-Rate program.

The importance of pre-bidding discussions

Pre-bidding discussions with your service providers are also an important part of the E-Rate process. Pre-bidding allows service providers to communicate effectively with districts and libraries early on. It also provides the most up-to-date E-Rate program information to help solve network challenges.

The USAC allows pre-bidding discussions. Below is an excerpt from the December 2018 E-Rate Advance Service Provider Training. This indicates that applicants and service providers work together on pre-bidding discussions including:

  • Discuss new product offerings.
  • Teach applicants about new technologies.
  • Provide demonstrations of products from service providers.

VectorUSA is one of the few service providers that represent multiple manufacturers. Using a service provider that represents multiple manufacturers means that you’re not limited to just one manufacturer’s offering and approach to your network. Instead, you’ll create a network that’s built on best practices rather than one that’s built based solely on a particular manufacturer’s limited perspective.

With E-Rate, an integrated multi-manufacturer approach is actually a smart move.

“With E-Rate, an integrated multi-manufacturer approach is actually a smart move.”

– Catherine Banker, Director of Education Services, VectorUSA

An engineer’s assessment is vital

Technology components that involves getting broadband access into the classroom is eligible for E-Rate funding. That includes switches, routers, access points, caching servers and in the past, data center components.

Because technology changes rapidly though, it’s vital that a skilled network engineer assess your entire network. A qualified engineer can identify everything that’s either eligible or ineligible for E-Rate.

“Because technology changes rapidly though, it’s vital that a skilled network engineer assess your entire network.”

– Catherine Banker, Director of Education Services, VectorUSA

For example, there are apps that can simplify implementing various pieces of equipment or software. Security too is a big part of the overall picture. And districts and libraries don’t always think about how they can secure their data network and increase its speed at the same time.

An engineer can also help to identify ways to reduce broadband use which will maintain an efficient network and reduce costs. In addition, an engineer can help you avoid acquiring outdated and ineffective equipment that’s not going to provide the proper bandwidth.

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A team approach is best

Forming a cross-functional team to begin the proposal evaluation process is another way to get the most out of the E-Rate program. Led by your CEO, those team members in charge of purchasing, IT and facilities must all work together to produce a solution outcome that benefits everyone, students included.

“Forming a cross-functional team to begin the proposal evaluation process is another way to get the most out of the E-Rate program.”

– Catherine Banker, Director of Education Services, VectorUSA

The most successful districts and libraries are those who rely on a team that fully understand the amount of money that’s at stake and available. Team discussions with both service providers and manufacturers also foster intelligent decisions about the direction of your E-Rate funding.

For districts and libraries that might not have enough money up front to pay for their 20% match piece, for example, they can arrange to lease the equipment over a five-year period. But unless you talk to a service provider, you won’t be aware of all of the options like leasing that are available.

If you’re exploring using a consultant to navigate through E-Rate, by all means, glean from them what you can. But remember that consultants generally don’t have engineers on staff and they can’t successfully engineer a data network the way an IT service provider can. We encourage you to talk to multiple consultants and service providers to gather as much information as possible. That will help you gain a clear picture of what’s available before you choose to spend $1 million, $10 million or even $20 million.

We have the expertise

Since 2000, VectorUSA has worked with more than 340 K-12 school districts, successfully completing more than $500 million worth of E-Rate funded projects. We look forward to working with your school district or library on its E-Rate funding to help you get the most out of this financially beneficial program.

With a broad vendor-neutral portfolio of manufacturing partners, VectorUSA combines our services and solutions to create truly connected and collaborative educational environments for students, parents and staff alike. What are your E-Rate plans and needs? And how can we help?