Business & Technology

E-Rate Program: What You Should Know When Filing

By Susan Biddle | December 01, 2017

Having secure, reliable access to the internet is no longer an option. It’s necessary. This is especially true for schools, as curriculum and resources are increasingly moving online. However, cyberattacks are also becoming more frequent. In fact, data shows that 141 US school districts have reported one or more cyber incidents since 2016. 

To meet these needs while protecting both students and networks, K-12 schools and districts across the United States are currently in the process of applying for E-rate for Funding Year 2018. The E-rate program from the Universal Service Administration Company provides funding for K-12 schools to ensure affordable internet connectivity along with critical technical infrastructure. The goal of this program is to ensure that school districts are able to provide students with regular and uninterrupted access to these cyber resources.

Additionally, the number of devices connecting to school networks is growing as a result of both students and teachers bringing their own connected devices to school. This means schools now have a need for more bandwidth or controls that prioritize bandwidth use. With E-rate, schools are able to get funding for these items and services as well.

However, the E-rate application process can be difficult to navigate. The goal of this post if to serve as a snapshot of the discussions in our webcast, Arm Your Digital Learning with These E-rate Truths and Myths, which gives a comprehensive overview of E-rate considerations before submitting a Request Bids for Service (FCC Form 470).

Types of E-rate Funding

E-rate has strict qualifications for the types of services and products eligible for funding, and administrators must be careful to only apply for those approved by USAC. It is also worth noting that schools must already be CIPA compliant before applying in order for E-rate to be considered. This can be done through the use of a strong unified threat management program that blocks malicious sites and content, as well as email security to defend against phishing and social engineering attacks.

For consistent internet connections, schools also require a few core components. The first are data transmissions services and internet access. Second are the infrastructure and internal connections necessary for end-users to use this internet access. Internet access is covered under category one funding, while infrastructure, maintenance, and managed internal broadband services are covered under category 2 funding.

  • Internal Connections
    This subsection of category two funding refers to hardware such as wireless access points, switching, caching, and firewalls. These products make it possible for students, teachers, and staff to have easy and consistent access to the web as they move from class to class. These tools also offer bandwidth controls to ensure that as more people and devices access the network, bandwidth is not being misallocated.
  • Managed Internal Broadband Services (MIBS)
    This refers to managed Wi-Fi services provided by a third-party vendor. MIBS is covered under category two funding, and allows for a third party to manage the design, configuration, and updates of the internal connections infrastructure. With MIBS, schools can outsource the management of internal connections to providers to monitor the network.
  • Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections
    This section of category two funding refers to the upkeep of eligible products, such as hardware and wiring. Software upgrades, patches, and security patches are funded under this basic maintenance clause given that internal connections would not otherwise operate reliably or as intended. 

Fortinet’s E-rate Eligible Products

Fortinet offers multiple E-rate eligible solutions that fit within each tier of category two funding. These solutions have become a clear priority among educators, as 40 percent of participants in this webcast marked network security as their primary interest in the E-rate program.

In addition to providing seamless internet connections across various school buildings and classrooms, these solutions offer a high degree of network security, which has become necessary as the education space faces growing numbers of cyberattacks.

  • FortiGate
    FortiGate Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFW) offer network protection from the sophisticated known and unknown threats schools now have to deal with. Each NGFW offers the latest threat intelligence from FortiGuard labs as well as secure internal segmentation. Internal segmentation ensures that at-risk student or faculty devices that connect to the network are isolated to prevent any associated malware from spreading to and infecting the rest of the network. 
  • FortiAP and FortiSwitch
    Fortinet’s secure access points and switches offer secure internal connections for reliable, seamless Wi-Fi. FortiAP is integrated with NGFWs to provide defense in-depth as students and faculty connect various devices to the network, while FortiSwitch improves network efficiency and scalability.
  • FortiCache
    FortiCache is an eligible product that manages bandwidth allocation across the school. With greater numbers of connected devices coming to school with students and teachers, the extra traffic can be a strain on bandwidth. Content and video caching through FortiCache allows for regularly accessed content and video to be stored and served faster, thereby reducing costs and improving network performance. This product also offers anti-malware protection as well as gives administrators the ability to block any content and websites that students should not be visiting.
  • FortiCare
    FortiCare is eligible under the Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections section of category two funding. With FortiCare in place, schools have 24/7 fast access to technical support. Additionally, FortiCare offers firmware upgrades, technical resources, incident reporting, and more.

To learn more about Fortinet’s E-rate eligible offerings, visit our E-rate provider services page.

Final Thoughts

The E-rate program offers K-12 schools the ability to incorporate high-quality, reliable internet into their offerings. However, there are specific requirements that solutions must meet to be eligible for funding. Fortinet’s goal is to make the E-rate process as simple as possible by offering eligible solutions that incorporate in-depth security features.

Watch our webcast on demand to get a more comprehensive view of the E-rate process.