December 2, 2020

E-rate Funding Considerations for a Better 2021

Kinzie Wooderson

Technical Writer for Kincaid IT

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Now is the time to start analyzing your network, identify bottlenecks, and create an action plan to support a better network in 2021

Things are not slowing down this year as they have in years past. If your school or district has added devices to inventory to support students in virtual learning, the network in your buildings will be put to the test as those devices are used in classrooms. Though it may start small as teachers refresh their lessons to better utilize these new tools in a 1:1 environment, a well-performing network will be a foundation to success while also resulting in fewer calls to the technology department. 

Man plugging Internet Cable in Router

It is time to start thinking about E-Rate

USAC (Universal Services Administration Co.) will be releasing the updated 2021 eligible services list. How are you going to be able to put these funds to work in your District to support your network?

Want the TL;DR? Now is the time to start analyzing your network, identify bottlenecks, and create an action plan to support a better network in 2021. 

Considerations:

  • Look at Wifi coverage in terms of the number of devices, not signal strength. Networks pre-1:1 were built around making sure the teachers and computer carts had a “good signal” throughout the building. This coverage model changes to a density model with the new focus needing to be on how many devices can be simultaneously supported in each space. Both the model and the number of access points will determine this. Don’t forget about spaces where large groups will gather such as a lecture hall or library. In these areas during standard operation (i.e. not social distanced), it wouldn’t be uncommon to see multiple classes or groups come together for a meeting or presentation.
  • Are your switches and cabling up for the challenge? Ensuring that switches and cabling are of newer standards to serve the volume of users and traffic you will have on each access point will be critical. This includes Power Over Ethernet (POE) as well as bandwidth capabilities.
  • How many clients can your IP addressing support? Rather than each staff member having a device with a few labs here and there, you’re now looking at every single person having a device (or maybe more than one). 
  • Is your internet service sufficient enough? You’re only as fast as your slowest link and that is most likely your internet connection. If you’re going to bid this out, be sure to include the ability to increase your capacity easily without re-bidding. Also ensure that you are familiar with possible limitations such as the max capacity of the circuit. 
  • Don’t forget about your firewalls also in this mix and how much capacity they have. This number is more complex than what the port can support – how much processing power do they have? If you’re using them to filter content, you could lighten their load with Securly’s DNS-based content filtering. 

Planning Ahead

Going into the E-Rate season with a solid shopping list is key to maximizing your funding use. There is a limited window of time to leverage these funds each year, making planning ahead key. A network audit with Kincaid IT will ensure all things are considered to allow solid planning in order to put this money to good use and use these tools to their fullest potential. If you have specific questions about the E-Rate process, funds, or eligibility of items, please contact a consultant specializing in the program for more assistance and specifics.

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