What is the E-Rate Program and Why We Love It

Posted on Mar 3, 2020 in Education

What is the E-Rate Program and Why We Love It

The E-Rate program is an FCC-backed financial assistance grant program for primary education institutions and libraries for the benefit of the organization to upgrade and/or maintain their technology to better serve their population. 

Here are a few of examples:

A school in North Carolina had a wireless network that they needed to have installed. They had previously used routers that they bought from a retail store and stuck all over the school to give teachers wireless. This was unreliable for the teachers, the teachers could not go away from the router nearby their classroom, and the school wanted to go one-to-one with devices for all students from grades 6 through 12. The project cost $45,000, and because of the E-Rate program, the school qualified for a 40% granted discount. The school ended paying $27,000 and saving the remaining $18,000.

A rural school in Iowa had a good, existing, working wireless network, but over 50 of their wireless access points were at end of life. The project to replace the access points was $65,000, and because of the E-Rate program, the school qualified for an 85% granted discount. The school ended up paying $9,750 and saving the remaining $55,250.

Another school in North Carolina had network equipment and qualifying servers that needed management. They did not have nor want permanent onsite IT personnel. Because of the E-Rate program, the monthly $2,175 was able to be offset by a 40% granted discount. This saved the school $10,440 for the year and elevated the support to where they did not have to pay anything additional for services related to their network or servers.

There are a lot of working pieces, and today we will explain exactly how this program works.

The Players

There are a variety of players in this program that are foundational to understand how it works and how to get the most out of it for your organization.  

  1. The Applicant. The Applicant is the educational institution or library that is applying for grant awards.
  2. The Service Provider. The Service Provider bids on applications submitted by Applicants, and, if selected, performs the agreed upon. 
  3. The Consultant. The Consultant knows the program better than anyone else (except maybe the folks who work for it directly) and is a tremendous asset to the Application in making sure that forms are completed correctly, timelines are followed, and no money is wasted. A good Consultant is a powerful assistant to the Applicant. 
  4. The USAC. The USAC (Universal Service Administrative company) administers the Universal Service Fund under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Universal Service Fund helps communities and people across the U.S. stay connected to the information, resources, and care they need. The Applicants, Service Providers, and Consultants are all certified by the USAC. They also certify all forms and agreements made within the program. They make the program work.

The Program

The E-Rate program is pretty simple, actually. The program gives discounts to educational institutions to assist in paying for specific technology services and hardware. The E-Rate program does change from year to year. In the past it has included internet service, phone service, servers, network routers, network switches, wireless access, installation services, and ongoing maintenance of the currently or newly installed equipment (managed services).

One component that is truly interesting is that aside from operating with integrity and keeping records, there are no strings attached. This means that faith based education institutions will not have to change their views or processes in order to participate!

The Process

  1. A Technology Audit is necessary and a first step. Whether an Applicant intends to complete all of the forms themselves, or they are working with a Consultant, they need to know what they have so that they know what to put out for bid. A Consultant and/or knowledgeable Service Provider can perform this audit. We recommend using a Consultant for this because Consultants are prized for knowing what things are covered by the grant, and what aren’t. 
  2. Forms are completed, the application is submitted, and the folks at the USAC review the forms. If they are done properly, the USAC publishes the application forms, and bidding can begin. If not, the USAC sends them back for modification. A Consultant can help ensure that there are no delays in submitting the forms and that they are done right the first time. 
  3. For 28 days, the Applicant may not make a decision as to which Service Provider they are choosing. This cooling off period is a time for Service Providers to review what’s been submitted, ask questions, and submit a bid. 28 days is the minimum period between approval (step 2 above) and selection of service provider. In many cases, the Applicant may take longer to decide if they want to. The Applicant always has the final say as to whom (which Service Provider) they will work with. A Consultant can assist the Applicant in ensuring that they pick the best Service Provider. Often times price is not the best decision making tool because of various reasons including Service Provider reputation, accuracy of the bid, relationship / knowledge of the Service Provider, etc.
  4. The Applicant selects a Service Provider, and the agreement is sent to the USAC for certification and approval. If the anything is off in the agreement as perceived by the USAC auditors, they will send it back to the parties to fix and re-submit. Otherwise, the agreement is certified and published. A Consultant can assist here in making sure that the forms are submitted correctly the first time and that they are modified expeditiously if needed. 
  5. The Service Provider does the work agreed upon work. This may be a one-time service, some hardware, updated internet or phone service, or ongoing service and support, depending on the agreement. 
  6. The Applicant pays the Service Provider, and the Service Provider gets paid. This is a weird way of saying it, but there are two main ways that the Service Provider gets paid. BEAR is where the Applicant pays the Service Provider the full amount, and then gets reimbursed all amounts due from the USAC. SPI is where the Applicant pays the Service Provider the appropriate discounted amount, and the Service Provider gets paid the remainder from the USAC. Typically, though, it is a hybrid between these two and depends greatly on what the Applicant and Service Provider decide upon.
  7. Repeat for next year. The process has to be redone every year to receive funding. A Consultant can make sure that everything stays in timeline. 

The Passion (What We Love, but wanted to use another P-word)

  1. Helping schools in creating tomorrow’s leaders today. All the technology in the world is irrelevant if we don’t have good and wise people to position it properly. Your role is to train, and to train effectively. Our future leaders in all industries are in your hands. You have a huge responsibility and undertaking. And we are grateful that you do it! We are excited about the leaders that will come out of your organization, and we are excited to partner with you in our area of expertise, technology.
  2. Our love for technology. We love it, and this part of our passion shows up in the way we do work. 
  3. Our joy in simplifying technology and “tech talk” into terms everyone can understand. We’ve all been in a conversation with someone who knows their craft / line of work really well, but can’t communicate it at all. We leave confused and bewildered and unsure if we should be excited or scared. That’s no good! We strive for our clients to understand what we are doing before, during, and after we do it. After all, it’s YOUR technology. We are here to make sure it works best for the way that you want to do things! 
  4. Our desire to “right-size your business and technology”. There’s no need for a King Size Snickers when you just want a little nibble. The same is true with your tech. We hate seeing wasted money on unused or expired technology. It also pains us to see organizations struggling because the technology that they have isn’t doing what the organization needs. This is a core tenant to what we do.

If you work for a school, school district, head start program, or another type of educational organization and are interested in technology solutions and E-Rate funding please reach out to us! Discover how easy it is to get started. 

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