Each year, before the Federal Communications Commission e-rate funding application filing window opens (you can read more about the application process here), the FCC releases an Eligible Services List for the upcoming funding year. This list contains a description of the products and services that will be eligible for discounts for applicable schools, universities and libraries, along with additional helpful information such as eligibility conditions for each category of service for each specified funding year.

E-rate funding – which is a program that provides discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access – is divided into two broad categories: Category 1 supports the provision of connectivity from the service provider’s network to the school or library campus. Category 2 e-rate funding supports connectivity within the building, such as Wi-Fi. Requests for Category 1 are funded first and then Category 2 requests are considered, up until the program reaches its funding cap for the year.

The Category 2 e-rate budget approach was established in 2014 and consisted of five-year budgets for schools and libraries that provide a set amount of funding to support internal connectivity. The FCC also established a five-year test period (from funding year 2015 to funding year 2019) to consider whether the Category 2 budget approach is effective in ensuring greater access to e-rate discounts for internal connections. That five-year cycle renews in November 2019. Following, Information Transport Solutions, Inc., a Uniti company, details Category 2 e-rate funding and all the possibilities for eligible schools and libraries. Here’s why your district should take advantage of all e-rate funding has to offer.

Category 2 E-Rate Funding Services

Internal Connections and Managed Internal Broadband

Internal connections and managed internal broadband service include eligible products, such as access points, routers, switches, hubs, and wiring for schools, universities, and libraries. Eligible products will be attainable for schools and applicable institutions as long as they are necessary to transport information to classrooms or publicly accessible areas of a library. Services provided by a trusted IT firm, such as ITS, for the operation, management, and monitoring of eligible broadband internal connections components are eligible MIBS (e.g., managed Wi-Fi).

Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections

BMIC covers the repair and upkeep of eligible internal connections for hardware, wiring, and cable maintenance, along with basic technical support and configuration changes. Schools and libraries can greatly take advantage of this in the sense that they can rest assured knowing their products and services will be maintained properly, and that help will be on-hand in the case of any disruptions of emergencies. For example, ITS maintains true, ongoing, and trusted technical support for each client. We pride ourselves on helping educational institutions in building the right infrastructure; implementing technologies to build a safe environment, enhance administrative efficiency, and create digital classrooms; and maintaining such environments.

Category 2 Funding Explained

E-rate participants receive funding on a sliding scale. Prior to 2014, only those schools and libraries with the lowest co-pay levels successfully obtained Category 2 funding before the program hit the cap. This was exacerbated by the FCC’s “two-in-five” rule, which restricted the receipt of Category 2 funding to two years out of a given five-year period. This meant that schools or libraries with somewhat higher co-pays could not even submit a request for Category 2 funding in most years.

Under the Category 2 approach change in 2014, each school and library must maintain a per-student or per-patron budget. The budget is $150 per student for schools and $2.30-$5.00 per square foot for libraries. The result since has been that more schools and libraries have been able to obtain some amount of category two funding, despite most not using up the entirety of their budgets.

The FCC has proposed to make this budget approach permanent and is currently seeking comment (up until the renewal date in November) on further reform. Some of the more notable proposals and possible changes include:

  • Making permanent the availability of Category 2 funding for managed Wi-Fi and caching
  • Changing calculation of the budgets from an individual to a district-wide basis
  • Increasing the budget floor from $9,200 to $25,000 every five years
  • Replacing the requirement for an annual student count and, instead, presume that a count conducted in one of the last four funding years is valid
  • Permitting unused funds to roll over to subsequent funding years
  • Changing the budget process so that it either functions on a rolling five-year cycle or shifts to fixed five-year cycles that would begin in 2020

Why Your District Should Take Advantage

There is absolutely no doubt that schools and libraries can benefit from taking advantage of e-rate funding. As previously mentioned, eligible parties have the benefit of receiving discounts on telecommunication services and internet access, as well as internal connection hubs, managed internal broadband services, and basic maintenance of internal connections.

Establishing internet access for a large entity, such as an entire school campus or library, requires several steps. Fortunately, ITS handles all them for you, including installation and provisioning. We are responsible for coordinating all aspects of the installation and ensuring that your service is operational. E-rate funding accounts for these support services and imperative functions.

When you team up with a trusted IT professional to receive and manage e-rate tech funding, you gain a trusted partner. On a continual basis, we at ITS help educational institutions build the right infrastructure for their campus and implement technologies to build a safe environment, enhance administrative efficiency, and create digital classrooms.

Interested in working together and/or learning more about Category 2 e-rate funding and how your district can benefit? Reach out to us today. Our team of trusted professionals are on hand at all times to provide you’re the best and most accurate IT solutions.

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