HomeTechnologyWebinar Covers E-Rate 101 for School Bus Wi-Fi

Webinar Covers E-Rate 101 for School Bus Wi-Fi

A webinar shed light on the details and federal rules for school districts to be cognizant of when applying for E-Rate funding for school bus Wi-Fi.

Jim Kerr, principal e-rate consultant for project management consulting firm KB & Associates, opened the Thursday webinar, hosted by School Transportation News and sponsored by Cradlepoint, by sharing the background, offerings, and usage of E-Rate, which was established via the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act and makes $4 billion available each year for educational connectivity. About 60 percent of users, he said, utilize consultants due to all the federal rules and requirements.

“Before you even begin the process, you need to determine how many buses, routes and [how much] coverage area you have,” he advised.

He listed the steps to take and timeline, from planning to funding disbursement. Discounts are available, especially for rural districts and those with students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Important to note is that the RFP process must be a fair, open and competitive process with limited vendor influence and price being the most heavily weighted consideration, he added. The chosen vendor must be extremely accurate with what is being purchased so funding can flow smoothly, he stressed.

Kerr reviewed federal requirements for working with vendors and potential pitfalls. He advised saving documents for 10 years form the date of bus Wi-Fi installation in case of audits.

Equipment, cell service and software renewal licenses are all eligible for E-Rate funding. Operational management, maintenance and support are not covered. Buses leased from a third party are eligible if they are solely used by the applying school district for students. The Wi-Fi connection should only be used for students and staff and must comply with Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

The application window for the next round of funding (the fiscal year 2025 FCC Form 470 filing window) opens on July 1 and closes next February. Anna Hanson, sales director for Cradlepoint partner ByteSpeed Computers, noted that earlier applications are considered first so it’s best to start the conversations and preparations sooner rather than later.

Related: (Recorded Webinar) How to Fund & Implement School Bus WiFi
Related: Directors Discuss Navigating Wi-Fi Purchases, E-Rate Funding at STN EXPO Indy
Related: Webinar Addresses School Bus Wi-Fi Myths, E-Rate Funding
Related: Webinar Shares School Bus Wi-Fi Implementation Story, Tips
Related: Closing the Digital Divide – With School Bus Wi-Fi Hotspots?

Cradlepoint provided nearly 90 percent of the school bus Wi-Fi solutions procured via the federal government’s Emergency Connectivity Fund ECF) Program, noted Ben Moebes, the company’s director of public sector sales.

“We are the easy button when it comes to Wi-Fi on vehicles,” he said.

He stated that Cradlepoint offers ruggedized and dependable hardware, flexible installations on bus roofs or windows, robust connectivity for rural districts, and the CIPA filtering required by the E-Rate regulations. The company’s NetCloud management service is a simplified tool for real-time visibility, Wi-Fi usage information, school bus tracking, and more.

Moebes shared that data collection and maps built into the system allows transportation staff to monitor how the Wi-Fi is being used and any changes that may need to be made for better efficiency. Kerr confirmed that E-Rate does not require districts to show how much Wi-Fi is being used.

“It’s really important that you pick good partners when you do a deployment like this,” Hanson said. “One chink in the armor of what you’re putting together on the buses could really cause problems.”

Moebes noted details like antenna installation on the bus, which transportation staff need to be attuned to. “Please make sure the teams you pick know what they’re doing,” he said.

Other benefits of school bus Wi-Fi include driver safety and retention, student physical security, route tracking, and live vehicle maintenance stats, Moebes reviewed. Using the ethernet for student tracking or video cameras is acceptable only if its primary use is student connectivity. He added that E-Rate is being used to fulfill renewals of Wi-Fi technology added onto school buses and used for mobile hotspots during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the webinar on-demand.

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