Providing high-quality Internet access for students and library patrons is challenging, and one of the biggest barriers is cost. It can be expensive to provide enough Wi-Fi for digital learning.

Fortunately, the E-rate program exists to helps schools and libraries lower the cost of those networks. The next E-rate funding application cycle will open soon, bringing a unique opportunity to help your school or library address its Internet connectivity needs. Understanding those needs, and then knowing what financial support is available to meet them, is the key to harnessing the potential of this moment.

Wi-Fi in September 2021
The 2020 filing window will provide discounts for the purchase and installation of networking equipment through the end of September 2021. Because a successful E-rate application starts with planning for the future, that is where you should begin.

Please imagine that it is September 30, 2021. On that day, nearly two years from now, picture each of your organization’s school or library sites. How is Internet access being utilized? Who is using it? How many people and devices are supported? Are they streaming videos? Sharing files?

Now, consider the networking infrastructure that will be necessary to support those users in September of 2021. Will you need more Wi-Fi access points? Faster Wi-Fi connections? More network switches? New data cabling? What changes to the on-campus computer network will be required?

With the eligible services list finalized for funding year 2020, there is no reason not to begin planning potential purchases. Knowing where you are today, estimating where you need to be tomorrow (i.e. September 30, 2021), and measuring the difference, will give you a roadmap for your next “Category Two” E-rate funding application. 

Category Two Budgets in 2020
New E-rate Category Two rules provide a one-time dose of extra funding in funding year 2020 to help get schools and libraries connected. After you understand what will be needed by 2021, you can then estimate the E-rate support that is available in 2020 to help your sites get there. Although the official and final budget numbers have not been set, you can estimate the amount financial support that is available using this free tool developed by Funds For Learning.
 

 
It is important to note that all Category Two budgets will reset for funding year 2021. If there are currently funds available in 2020, those will expire if not used. The opposite is also true. If a site does not have any remaining funds for 2020, it will receive a new budget in 2021.

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The key to planning a successful Category Two funding application is straight forward:
  1. Forecast each site’s I.T. infrastructure needs as of 2021
  2. Review the E-rate eligible services list
  3. Estimate the available financial support for each site
Armed with this information, you will be equipped to start the competitive bidding process and procure the Wi-Fi and other infrastructure that your sites need.