Business & Technology

What You Need to Know About E-rate Funding for K-12 in 2019

By Jeff Jennings | January 28, 2019

School IT departments in the U.S. continue to face challenges from all directions. They manage increasing numbers of district-provided devices, as well as bring your own devices (BYOD) devices from students, faculty, and campus visitors connecting to their networks. They must also adapt their operations to increasingly strict regulations, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). At the same time, IT departments in education face both internal and external cyber threats that continue to grow in volume and sophistication. And they typically do all of this with extremely limited budgets and resources.

One resource to help with these demands has been the E-rate program, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The E-rate program was designed to give public schools and libraries cost-effective access to the technologies they need to bolster their network infrastructures and prepare for future educational requirements. The E-rate program offers a tremendous opportunity for institutions to purchase security and networking technology at zero or reduced cost.

Last year, the E-rate program received 35,000 applications for a total of $2.77 billion. Within 30 days of the window closing, USAC issued the first funding commitment wave, which included 15,000 applications (43% of the applications) and over $503 million in funding requests. By the beginning of June, the USAC had committed $1 billion on 18,000 applications.

Category 1 vs. Category 2 Funding

The E-rate program has strict qualifications for the types of services and products eligible for funding. Administrators must be careful to only apply for items approved by USAC. Category 1 funding covers data transmission and Internet access services. Category 2 requests apply to infrastructural costs, such as:

  • Internal connections. 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 misallocated.
  • Managed Internal Broadband Services (MIBS). This refers to Wi-Fi services provided by a third-party vendor in charge of design, configuration, and updates for the internal connection’s infrastructure. MIBS enables a school to outsource the management and monitoring of their network.
  • Basic maintenance of internal connections. This covers the upkeep of eligible products, such as hardware and wiring. Software upgrades and security patches are also funded under this basic maintenance clause given that internal connections would not otherwise operate reliably or as intended. 

Use your 2015 Funds in 2019—or Lose Them

Category 2 funding was established in 2015 so that schools and libraries could obtain funding for these sorts of needs over a five-year period. The clock on the five-year term begins the first year any school in the district obtains E-rate Category 2 funds. For example, if one school in the district received funding in 2017, then that becomes year 1 for all schools in the district (with eligibility extending through year 5 in 2021). All allocated funds must be spent within the funding year. So, if any school in your district started receiving funds in 2015, you must request Category 2 funding in 2019 before your eligibility expires next year.

K-12 schools across the United States are currently applying for E-rate Funding Year (FY) 2019. Schools and libraries have recently been making requests for E-rate Category 2 projects at a record pace. Requests this fall were up 56% over last year—well above the high-mark set in 2015.

Fortinet Products that Qualify for Category 2

Cybersecurity is one of the main needs driving organizations to apply for E-rate funds. Fortinet’s E-rate eligible solutions support cybersecurity in each tier of Category 2 funding and include:

  • 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 a range of integrated security functions combined with the latest threat intelligence from FortiGuard Labs, including 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 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 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. FortiCache also offers anti-malware protection and 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 2 funding. With FortiCare in place, schools have 24x7 fast access to technical support. Additionally, FortiCare offers firmware upgrades, technical resources, incident reporting, and more.

Remember: The E-rate filing window for FY 2019 opens January 16, 2019 and closes March 27, 2019.

For questions or assistance with E-rate applications, visit the USAC website. To learn more about Fortinet’s Category 2 eligible offerings, visit our E-rate provider services page. Learn more about how Fortinet secures education and learning today with the Fortinet Security Fabric.