It’s Time to Think About E-rate Funding and School Cybersecurity

The summer break has faded in the rearview mirror, and a new school year has started. Many school IT staffers have been busy this summer performing much-needed maintenance or upgrading new technology for this school year.

Even after all the hard work this summer, there’s still more to do. The job of providing a powerful and secure IT infrastructure that enhances teaching and learning never ends.

School IT departments face many challenges while keeping students, faculty, and staff happy and safe from cyberthreats. You deal with an ever-increasing number of devices connecting to the network; you must comply with regulations like HIPAA and CIPA; you must fend off alarmingly sophisticated threats like ransomware; and you need to meet schools’ exploding bandwidth demands with your limited budgets and resources.

One resource to help with these demands is the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program. E-rate is designed to give public schools and libraries cost-effective access to the technology they need to bolster their network infrastructure and prepare for future educational needs.

Schools can use E-rate funds to help pay for Internet access and other telecommunications services, but also for internal network connections, maintenance of those connections, and managed broadband services.

To receive E-rate funding, schools must file a FCC Form 470 to open a competitive bidding process for technology projects and a FCC Form 471 to apply for program discounts.  The FCC Form 470 filing window opened in July and the FCC Form 471 filing window opens in January, making this a good time to ask some important questions about your long-term technology strategy and your ability to match your IT strategy with optimal learning outcomes.

Some potential questions: What new e-learning initiatives does your school have for the approaching year?  Will your current technology blueprint support them? If not, what modifications and investments do you need to make?

Education technology professionals should consider several factors when thinking about these questions. 

  • Security: Schools hold large amounts of personal data, making them targets for hackers. While schools often aren’t the most lucrative targets, their student and staff records can be used in identity theft fraud. In 2016, schools and colleges reported 98 data breaches, with more than one million records lost, according to the Identify Theft Resource Center. Schools must put in place an effective network security program to safeguard student and staff information.

 

  • Connectivity: In the emerging digital learning model, wireless connectivity is a critical part of the classroom experience. If the network goes down, digital learning stops. Schools need secure and widely available wireless networks. A robust, secure wireless network allows students and staff to use a broad range of devices and move seamlessly across the school’s campus and classrooms without interruption, all while providing integrated security.

 

  • Performance: Many students and staff members want to bring their own devices into classrooms. In addition, schools are embracing online standardized testing, web-based personalized learning, digital collaboration, and more use of video. All these new devices and teaching tools demand a high-performance network that can handle dozens, or even hundreds, of heavy users concurrently. Network caching products can improve performance and reduce bandwidth costs.

With the E-rate application process now open, it’s time for education technology professionals to think about their bandwidth, wireless, and network security needs. Fortinet offers several products and services eligible for E-rate funding, including next-generation firewalls, high-performance web caching, secure wireless access points, and network switches.