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Wed, 12/26/2018 – 09:47
Once its existing WAN provider wanted to charge significantly more for the same bandwidth speed, Midlothian Independent School District administrators began shopping for a faster, more affordable network — and they got one this summer with the help of E-rate funds.
The Texas district contracted with a different service provider to build a $1.49 million dedicated fiber network that connects the district’s 14 sites. E-rate paid for half the construction, the state paid another 10 percent and the district paid the balance.
The result: Midlothian ISD has increased WAN speeds tenfold, from 1 gigabit per second to 10Gbps, and will save $4.5 million in monthly leasing costs over the next 10 years.
“The reason we made the switch was cost,” says CTO Leslie Garakani. School districts across the country are under pressure to get the biggest bang for the buck, and the federal E-rate program is a way to address internet connectivity needs cost-effectively, while supporting the growing use of mobile computing devices and digital learning in classrooms.
E-rate provides $3.9 billion annually to K–12 school districts to help pay for access to high-speed broadband. Districts can get a 20 to 90 percent discount on services and equipment based on their percentage of students from low-income families who participate in the National School Lunch Program.
Today, most districts take advantage of E-rate’s Category One funds, which help pay for broadband from internet service providers, and for WAN services to connect schools so districts can distribute broadband to every school.
New E-rate rules have given districts more flexibility to acquire faster, more affordable WAN access — and districts, particularly in rural or remote locations, are taking advantage.
In areas with few options, it’s allowed districts like Midlothian ISD to partner with service providers to construct new fiber networks for their educational needs. In some cases, districts build and own the networks themselves.
“E-rate Category One funding is invaluable. We are building networks in places that would otherwise not get built,” says Milan Eaton, state E-rate controller for the Arizona Department of Education.
K–12 Schools Consider WAN Options
In the past, E-rate allowed schools to purchase only lit fiber services. But the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate modernization effort in 2014 gave districts two additional choices: They can lease dark fiber or build a district-owned fiber network if those are the most cost-effective options.
E-rate pays for special construction charges to build lit, dark and self-provisioned networks, and the FCC’s E-rate modernization promotes the effort through additional funds. If state governments agree to pay 10 percent of the construction costs, E-rate will match that with an additional 10 percent.