How to implement a school firewall that's Category 1 E-rate eligible

Learn how you could get help from the E-rate to pay for your firewall

by Dennis Pierce

To help keep school networks highly secure, a robust firewall is the first line of defense.

However, E-rate eligibility rules typically view firewalls as a Category 2 service, meaning there’s only a limited amount of funding available to help you purchase and maintain a firewall within each five-year period.

To counter this, a new service rolled out this year by AT&T bundles high-speed internet access with a premises-based school firewall. This means the service is designed to be eligible for Category 1 E-rate funding.

Because of this eligibility, schools may be able to get help from the E-rate in paying for a firewall – without being subject to the five-year funding cap on Category 2 services.

“The service is a great option for schools looking to invest in a new firewall solution,” says Kevin Carman, Education Segment Marketing Director at AT&T.

Added Carman: “Not only does it gives schools more flexibility when budgeting for E-rate eligible services, but it also removes the burden of managing and maintaining a school firewall.”

Fiber-based internet

The solution pairs fiber-based Managed Internet Service from AT&T with a premises-based firewall from Fortinet or another company with whom AT&T has a strategic alliance.

As part of the solution, AT&T will fully manage and support the firewall, which also features unified threat management (UTM) capabilities so schools can use the device to help with:  

  • Content filtering  
  • Protection from viruses and malware   
  • Other advanced threat detection

Billed as a monthly recurring service, this bundled option includes all hardware and software components of the firewall, as well as installation and configuration. Given the limitations placed on E-rate funding for Category 2 services, the AT&T security bundle could make smart financial sense for many schools.

According to E-rate rules, requests for funding on Category 2 services are limited to a budget based on the number of students in a school or the number of square feet of a library. Schools are eligible for discounts of up to $150 per student on the pre-discount cost of Category 2 services over a five-year period, with a pre-discount funding floor of up to $9,200 over five years for each school.

What’s more, the maximum discount rate for Category 2 services is 85 percent, and not 90 percent as it is for Category 1 services.

By taking advantage of the AT&T security bundle, a 1,000-student school or district that qualifies for a 90-percent E-rate discount could get 90 percent of the cost of this monthly service covered by the E-rate every year.

In contrast, if this same school or district purchased a firewall separately, it could only request E-rate discounts on a total of $150,000 worth of network equipment over five years. This equipment includes not just the firewall, but also all:   

  • Routers   
  • Switches   
  • File servers   
  • Wireless access points   
  • Other internal connections it needs during the five-year period

Additionally, the school or district would be eligible for only 85 percent of the cost of the firewall in E-rate support.