How to Choose an E-Rate Provider Based on Capacity

Surprise! E-rate service provider capacity can vary significantly. 

With roughly a month before the end of the FY20 E-rate filing window, school administrators will soon face the daunting task of evaluating bids from prospective E-rate service providers. How does a given E-rate service provider’s bid compare with the organization’s budgetary constraints? Does it account for each of the items presented in the school’s Form 470? If a school is planning to switch providers altogether, what does a potential transition period look like? How can the school ensure service delivery continues during the switch? Most importantly, are any of these prospective service providers actually up to the task?

Unfortunately, the answers to such questions, absent the advice of an experienced E-rate consultant, can be hard to determine. And the consequences of a rash or uninformed decision can be dire, particularly for schools that rely on technology to regularly support classroom instruction. One SMART Board mishap or a Google Chromebook service outage risks draining precious instructional time that can never be recovered.

Schools of all shapes and sizes require a broad range of technology support. 

For this reason, it’s important that an E-rate service provider offers a broad range of support to its clients, and is capable of preventing, forecasting, and troubleshooting diverse technology challenges.

This maxim holds true for schools of all sizes. While a first-year school may be tempted to go with the lowest bid—mindful of the budgetary challenges of any start-up year—its staff may ultimately pay the price when problems arise. “What do you mean you don’t provide desktop support?” “You’re telling me you can’t even handle one of my staff devices?” “We weren’t aware this particular domain was whitelisted on our servers!”

Absent a provider with significant capacity, these and similar issues can hobble a start-up school from the jump, making the challenge of launching and operating a new school all the more daunting for administrators, founding teachers, and families.

Of course, a large, well-established school can similarly ill afford a provider that doesn’t suit its needs. Low capacity often means low outputs, which can, in turn, diminish the impact of educational technology on student learning. Rather than directly supporting the unique mission of a given school, technology can quickly become incidental, an afterthought when decisions are made about teaching and learning inside the classroom. 

Think of future needs beyond E-rate.

As your school or organization grows, so too does its technology needs. 

And then there’s school growth, which, like a start-up, presents a host of challenges that demand effective E-rate provider support. Indeed, as a first-year school approaches the spring, administrators face a formidable task in effectively doubling the size of both their student body and, in some cases, their teacher and student device counts. 

A school’s expansion yields dozens of other potential technology challenges. An expanded facility requires more WiFi access points, desktop phones, and internal cabling, all of which put additional strain on the organization’s budget. An E-rate service provider with low capacity–especially one that hasn’t encountered the demands of a school’s summer workload–will lack the requisite tools to guide your school through a successful expansion and, ultimately, new school year launch. 

Teachers need solutions to common technology issues, and they need them now. 

At the end of the day, though, it’s about what happens in the classroom, between teacher and student, and between students and their peers. It’s here, more than in any other area, where the benefits of a high capacity E-rate service provider are most apparent. 

Imagine, for a moment, that a first-year teacher has spent hours preparing a given lesson using a particular piece of educational software. The teacher is convinced that the new tool will reach a relatively high number of students with IEPs in her classroom, many of which are currently testing below grade level in a variety of subjects. Just as the teacher is about to queue up the new program in front of her students, however, an error message flashes across the screen, threatening to upend all those hours of careful planning.

From here, it’s easy to imagine two dramatically different outcomes: in the first, the teacher simply has to scrap the lesson, opting instead for far less engaging, relatively low impact instructional methods. In the second, however, the benefits of a high capacity provider become clear. With a quick call to a support line and a remote desktop log-in, a technician quickly resolves the problem, enabling the teacher to execute her original lesson plan and, most importantly, deliver engaging content to students. 

Selecting a provider that can’t rapidly troubleshoot these and other technology issues threatens to undermine daily instruction. When teachers and students can’t resolve issues with educational software, device log-ins, or new program installation, a school’s technology becomes a barrier to instruction, rather than enabling or enhancing it. 

A high capacity E-rate service provider has more tools to support your school creatively.

This example speaks to yet another benefit of maintaining a high capacity E-rate service provider: the organization simply has more tools at its disposal to resolve incoming tech. issues. Just as a more experienced teacher or school administrator can quickly triage student behavioral or academic issues, so too can a high capacity provider rapidly resolve your school’s technology challenges. 

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to technology management, high capacity firms are able to work closely with school administration to craft solutions uniquely tailored to the client’s needs. This is especially true when working with more experienced providers, who draw from an array of diverse client experiences when determining how to approach a particular problem. As any administrator can tell you, no one school, grade level, or classroom is the same. Each demands individual consideration and tailored solutions that respond to its unique needs. 

High capacity providers can support the execution of your school’s unique mission. 

At CTS, we recognize that your E-rate service provider and broader IT support programs don’t exist in a vacuum. Each school has a unique mission, and we want the services we provide to ultimately support its execution. 

Even as educational technology rapidly proliferates across the country, usage often remains low due to implementation challenges. A high capacity E-rate service provider can help bridge the gap between instructional vision, technology, and classroom teaching, ensuring a seamless experience for your school’s students and teachers. Your focus is, and always should be, the delivery of high-quality instruction. Let us handle the tech. so you can spend more time making your mission a reality. Contact us or learn more about E-rate.

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