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E-Rate Discount Internet Access for Schools and Libraries

How schools and libraries can upgrade their Internet access speed at a substantial cost savings.

By: John Shepler

Keep Calm and Teach On educational poster. Get one for yourself now.Schools and libraries are clamoring for high speed Internet access. In our connected world, broadband has become a utility that enables business, personal development and learning of all types. While many, if not most, public resources have Internet access of some kind, pressure is mounting to increase the access speed to enable more users and more sophisticated applications. What stands in the way of doing this? Cost.

Discounted Service is Available
Fortunately, there is a government program that makes it possible for most K-12 schools and libraries to upgrade their broadband Internet at discounted rates that vary from 20% to 90% of the service cost. Instead of poking along at a few Mbps, it’s now quite reasonable to make the leap to fiber optic service offering 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet or 1,000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet.

Better Pricing Plus Affordability Equals Higher Bandwidth
Part of the affordability for higher bandwidth comes from the rapid expansion of competitive fiber optic services for business users. Competitive carriers have driven down the price per Mbps of broadband so that even GigE bandwidth is within reason for most companies and other organizations. Schools and libraries have the extra benefit of support through the government E-Rate program that makes possible discounted telecommunications, Internet access and internal connectivity.

How E-Rate Works
E-Rate gets it funding from the Universal Service fee charged to telecommunication companies. Originally, the idea was to create a pool of resources to ensure that everyone had telephone service, even if they couldn’t afford it. The ability to make and receive telephone calls was considered a strategic necessity for the country. Timeschange and the traditional landline is fading into obscurity. What’s replacing it as a necessity is broadband and mobility. With that in mind, the Federal Communication Commission has broadened the Universal Service Fund to include Internet as well as telephony.

Who Qualifies for E-Rate Discounts
E-Rate is targeted at two specific entities: schools and libraries. Each school, school district and library that wants the discounts submits an application through the administrator of the program, USAC or the Universal Service Administrative Company. Each carrier or service provider who wants to offer E-Rate qualified services must also apply and be assigned a SPIN or Service Provider Identification Number. As you might expect, there are various official forms that need to be completed. More information canbe found on the USAC website.

How the Discounts are Calculated
The size of the discount for each school or library is based on the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the population served. That sounds like it might be a pretty difficult thing to figure out. The determination is made much easier by basing it on the percentage of students eligible for the national school lunch program. Better off areas might only qualify for 20% service discounts. Those with severe poverty might qualify for discounts as high as 90%.

The Size of E-Rate Funding
How much money are we talking about? The E-Rate program funding cap for FY2015 is over $2.4 billion. If your school or library isn’t getting your share of the discounts applied to Internet service, it’s likely well worth your while to get on board. Others who are already benefiting from E-Rate service discounts and feeling the need to upgrade service levels should know that many major service providers now offer E-Rate qualified services. One or more is likely to be able to provide the kind of bandwidth you need, ranging from 10 Mbps on up to 10 Gbps.

Bandwidth Upgrades are Needed Now
A recent report indicated that many libraries nationwide are feeling the need to move as quickly as possible to 100 Mbps broadband. School districts with heavy classroom and administrative use may need to have Gigabit bandwidth installed. With fiber based Ethernet service, bandwidth levels are very scalable and can usually be increased without equipment changes.

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