Industry Trends

Questions to Ask When Navigating the E-Rate Program

By Susan Biddle | June 30, 2017

As reliance on technology continues to grow, and students inevitably require greater access to web assets, schools have been keeping up by incorporating programs that allow for more devices and a more web-focused curriculum. While it’s important to provide these services, between paying for internet access and securing the network, they typically come at a great cost. 

To mitigate these costs, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and its subsidiary, the Universal Services Administrative Committee (USAC), implemented the E-rate program, which provides federal funding to K-12 schools across the country. E-rate gives schools access to necessary technology they otherwise may not be able to afford.

E-rate provides two categories of funding. Category one funding provides data transmission and

Internet access. Category two funding supports the critical infrastructure required for security, speed, and compliance, offering schools $150 per student.

With bidding for funding year 21 around the corner, there is a lot to consider when assessing vendors for E-rate eligible products. Here are a few questions to keep in mind:

What is the technology landscape at your school?

The ratio of devices used per student, and whether students are bringing their own devices rather than those provided by the school, are important factors to consider when devising an infrastructure plan. The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) found that 37 percent of school systems reported one device per student, and 21 percent reported two or more devices per student, a number that is expected to climb to 65 percent by 2019.

The number of devices being used affects both bandwidth capacity and the number of access points required to accommodate this traffic. This is typically compounded by the fact that, in many cases, students own these devices and not the school. BYOD policies bring greater security risks and increase the possibility of data breach due to devices operating in multiple networks. Considering the sensitive information schools maintain, this can come at a high cost.  

What kind of resources do you have to devote to IT management?

Most schools are being tasked with doing more with less. Therefore, when assessing infrastructure solutions it is important to consider visibility and ease of management across devices. Having a unified management interface that can monitor multiple point solutions helps support limited IT personnel and resources.

How much does the solution cost, and how does that factor into the E-rate selection process?

Last, but not least. Price point is the most important consideration when assessing vendor bids for E-rate funding, as mandated by USAC. Cost is given the most weight in vendor evaluations, and must be justified to receive funding.  

Once you understand the kinds of solutions your school needs, you have to navigate the various regulations in place to get them. Schools applying for E-rate are bound by strict regulations from the FCC and USAC, as well as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), to ensure safe internet use by children. Fortinet has the solutions and experience you need to support your school through the E-rate process.

First, in order to be eligible for E-rate funding, schools must demonstrate that they have measures in place that will keep children from accessing mature content and from having personal information stolen, in compliance with CIPA regulations. Solutions such as FortiGuard and FortiGate can bring your IT infrastructure up to CIPA requirements with integrated web filtering, antivirus, and firewall, combined with regular updates to help identify and block the latest threats. With a comprehensive program in place to keep children safe online, the likelihood that your school will receive E-rate funding increases.

As greater numbers and types of devices join your network, Fortinet also offers E-rate eligible solutions that address network efficiency and security, as well as simplified network visibility and management tools. FortiCache, FortiGate Next-Generation Firewalls, FortiAP Wireless Access Points, and FortiSwitch Network Switches are all E-rate eligible, and integrate with each other for simplified IT management. The end result is improved speed and security at a competitive cost.

Here is a closer look at Fortinet’s E-rate eligible solutions.

  • FortiCache helps you make the most out of your current bandwidth by using content caching, WAN acceleration, and filtering controls ensuring content is delivered quickly while minimizing bandwidth overhead and misuse. FortiCache preserves bandwidth by remembering content that is used frequently and storing it locally, rather than downloading it each time it is accessed. This lifts the strain from available bandwidth, especially as students connect more devices. Additionally, network admins can control and block inappropriate or malicious content with the integrated FortiGuard functionality.
  • FortiGate Next-Generation Firewalls offer comprehensive network security without compromising network speed or performance. NGFWs protect your network and users from both the latest known and unknown threats, and provide internal segmentation that can quickly identify and isolate threats inside your network from infected or malicious devices. Secure segmentation is especially important as students and faculty connect private devices to the network to ensure that they don’t introduce malware into your environment picked up on other networks.
  • FortiAP Wireless Access Points provide strong, seamless wireless connection across a wide network combined with NGFW security. This allows students and faculty to use a broad range of devices, move seamlessly across your school’s campus and classrooms without interruption, while providing integrated protection.
  • FortiSwitch maximizes the efficiency of your network by managing the data being transmitted across the network. It does this by only sending specific data to the device for which it is intended, rather than across the network at large, thereby improving efficiency as additional devices join the network.

E-rate funding provides schools with the opportunity to innovate with a fast and affordable Internet and network infrastructure. However, as devices proliferate and cyberattacks become more sophisticated there are inherent risks that need to be addressed. Fortinet’s goal is to assist in providing schools with the safest, most efficient, and cost-effective network experience possible, while simplifying the vetting and bidding process for administrators.

For more information on Fortinet’s E-rate eligible solutions, click here.