E-Rate 2.0 offers more options to help schools and libraries take advantage of newer technologies and delivery mechanisms while keeping costs and operational support to a minimum.
One set of Category 2 options available to E-Rate recipients is the traditional broadband delivery services provided by school- or library-owned equipment. This involves the local-area network (LAN), the wireless area network (WAN), as well as the cabling, wiring and racking equipment to support it. Also included in this category are the antennas, connectors and related components used for connections, as well as caching equipment, firewall services, switches and routers, communications software, and any UPS/battery backup systems.
Another set of options falls into the newly available category of “managed services,” examples of which include:
•services provided by a third party for the operation, management and monitoring of broadband internal connection components for managed internal broadband services (e.g., managed Wi-Fi);
•services that are limited to direct support for broadband connectivity within schools and libraries, which include the management and operation of the LAN/WLAN, including installation, activation and initial configuration of eligible components, and onsite training on the use of eligible equipment; and
•a third-party manager that owns and installs the equipment. In this example, the school or library leases the equipment as part of a managed services contract. In other cases, the school or library may own the equipment but have a third party manage it for them.
This last option is one that opens the door for new calculations and relationships with service providers and other partner entities. For instance, schools are having discussions with service providers about joint venture implementations, in which the school contracts a provider to run fiber or other services on school property, but the school will provide its own services.
In other cases, the school is using E-Rate funding to pay for the installation of fiber for the school or district onto which the service provider will provide managed or unmanaged WAN or LAN services at a reduced rate. In yet another scenario, schools are co-venturing with other E-Rate eligible entities to share in the fiber and managed support.
There are options aplenty. As such, it would behoove any school or library IT manager to investigate the specific scenario that works best. Investigate the costs and support infrastructure necessary to deploy these alternatives, and talk with service providers including equipment providers to see what is available and at what rates. Competition is strong, and these alternative options are helping to keep costs down for schools and libraries. Even indicating you are considering one or more of these alternatives could be enough to drive down future costs for currently delivered services.