Tuesday, December 16, 2014

E-Rate Supports Gigabit Internet for Schools & Libraries

By: John Shepler

It’s clear that broadband Internet is a key infrastructure for business, education and personal use. Schools and libraries may have the greatest need of all to access information online. We’re living in a Google, Wikipedia, e-book world and information is going more electronic by the day.

Educational poster | Keep calm and teach on Schools & Libraries are Lagging
What might surprise you is that many elementary schools and libraries area woefully behind the times when it comes to electronic access. They need modern broadband service. Not the Megabit per second standard that was thought fast when we were moving from dial-up modems to always-on high speed Internet. Today’s standards need to be based on what fiber optic connections can provide. Is Gigabit Ethernet too fast… or just about right?

The FCC is now in the just about right camp. The latest round of improvements to the government’s E-Rate program are targeting Internet speeds of at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff now, moving up to 1,000 Mbps in the longer term. Libraries that serve fewer than 50,000 people should get at least 100 Mbps. Larger libraries, those serving more than 50,000 people need 1 Gbps or higher Internet access speeds. Looking ahead, the FCC wants WAN/Last Mile connectivity to be scalable to 10 Gbps per 1,000 students. You know it won’t be long before that is what we’ll think of as typical.

More Funding for Higher Bandwidths
The amount of funding for E-Rate discounts has been running a $2.4 billion a year. That has been recently increased by $1.5 billon to $3.9 billion per year. A good part of this funding will support high speed Internet access. The rest will be used for infrastructure within the facilities, particularly Wi-Fi access. Wireless vs wired Ethernet connections are particularly important for students and library patrons. Funding will be ended for legacy services such as paging and traditional landline telephones.

How to Qualify for E-Rate Discounts
Any school, school district or library that wants to participate in the E-Rate program needs to submit an application through the program administrator, USAC or the Universal Service Administrative Company. Any carriers, or service providers, that want to offer E-Rate qualified services also need to submit an application. They are then assigned a SPIN or Service Provider Identification Number. Many of the larger carriers have already taken this step and have the ability to install fiber optic broadband Internet or WAN connections at speeds ranging from 10 Mbps on up to 10 Gbps or more.

How Much Are the Savings?
E-Rate is a discounted service price. In other words, if you qualify for E-Rate you’ll pay less for broadband access than commercial entities for the same line speeds. The actual discount that each school or library receives is based on the poverty level of the population they serve and whether the population is considered urban or rural. The actual calculations are based on the percentage of students eligible for the national school lunch program. Discounts then range from as low as 20% to as high as 90%.

The Easy Want to Find E-Rate Broadband
You can do the research yourself by contacting local service providers or searching online for national carriers. However, it’s much easier to use a company that works with many different carriers and knows who has E-Rate capability in your area. There is no cost for this service. It’s available to any interested school or library. It’s also fast and easy to make a no-obligation inquiry. Check for carriers offering E-Rate bandwidth services now.

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