Michael Townsend is a Barracuda Field Solution Architect who focuses on helping educational organizations to design and implement comprehensive security and data-protection solutions. Part of that role involves understanding each customer’s budget process and constraints, and creating strategies that help them maximize the resources at their disposal.
E-Rate is a federal program that helps schools pay for certain types of IT investments, but applying for it can be challenging for some. Before Michael came to Barracuda, he was Director of IT at a major school district, so he is intimately familiar with his customers’ needs and challenges. We sat down with him to ask him a few questions about the E-Rate program in order to share that information with our readers. What follows is a summary of that conversation.
Q&A with Michael Townsend, Field Solution Architect
Before joining Barracuda, you were Director of Technology for Tuscaloosa County Schools — and a Barracuda customer. Can you tell us a bit about that position and what your responsibilities were?
The main focus of my responsibilities in that role was, first and foremost, to ensure the safety of the children, faculty, and staff in the schools.
Part of that involved physical security measures, such as security cameras, door access control systems, fire detection and suppression, and so on. It also included cybersecurity and CIPA compliance measures, such as email security, network firewalls, web filters, web application firewalls, and data backup systems.
I worked closely with the district superintendent, CSFO (chief school financial officer), and members of the School Board to establish technology budgets that would allow me to address our needs adequately, and also with curriculum directors to develop educational plans for using technology in the classroom.
As part of the budgeting process, I had to apply for E-Rate funding from the federal government to help defray the costs of some of our technology investments.
What are some of the top cybersecurity and compliance challenges schools have to deal with? And how do budget issues compound those challenges?
I’d say that the primary challenge is that technology moves quickly, and school funding moves slowly. K-12 budgets are typically planned a year in advance. That makes it very challenging to address cyber emergencies or to implement up-to-date security measures in response to new security issues.
Add to that the fact that schools must abide by federal and state bidding laws for contracted services. The bottom line is that it can be very slow and frustrating to obtain funding in response to urgent challenges.
Can you explain what the E-Rate federal funding program is and how it works?
E-Rate is a program of the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, originally intended to help schools afford to upgrade telecommunications and information services such as broadband connections. Over the years the program has been updated, most recently to increase total funding, and to expand the types of investments that can be funded.
Eligibility depends partly on the wealth or poverty of a given district, and rural districts also get priority.
What are some of the challenges schools face in applying for E-Rate funding, and how can they do so more easily?
Applying for E-Rate funding can be a long and complicated process. Many schools or school districts do not have the resources or time to navigate the complex application or reimbursement process. As a result, schools would rather leave a piece of the $4 billion in annual funding on the table than take on the tedious task.
As a vendor, we’ve heard this story many times. The good news is that E-Rate has become so mainstream, schools do not have to do E-Rate alone anymore. There are E-Rate consultants who specialize in helping schools with their complete E-Rate journey. Many resellers and manufacturers also have E-Rate specialists that are well-versed in E-Rate product eligibility, and while they can’t help with the application process, they can help with E-Rate eligible solutions.
You’re going to be co-hosting a webinar about E-Rate funding soon. Can you share a little about what attendees can expect to learn from that webinar?
Yeah, absolutely. The agenda for the webinar is going to include all of the following:
- E-Rate program updates and what they might mean for you
- E-Rate 101 — a high-level explanation of the program, its requirements, and how to use it
- Which Barracuda products are eligible for E-Rate funding
- How Barracuda can help you complete your application for E-Rate funding support
- And Barracuda resources that are available to help you deal with the program
I would urge anyone who is an IT leader in the educational space to attend this webinar, it’s going to be very informational and practical in terms of helping you get through the E-Rate program — and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that schools can always use as much budget support as they can get!