It’s that time of year when you are starting to receive your broadband contract renewals for your school. If you’ve been tied into a contract for a few years, and it’s up for renewal, don’t simply sign on that dotted line. Remember to shop around to find the best deal for you. Available services have improved, and prices have probably dropped since you last looked for your broadband package.
Consider those independent broadband providers as competitors to your usual broadband options. There are plenty alternatives out there ready to compete with traditional models of the Regional Broadband Consortia, and most Grids for Learning. This is the perfect opportunity to get a better, faster, and more reliable connection to the outside world – now’s your time to seize it!
With such a wealth of information out there, I’ve collated some of the features that come up over and over again. Why not use them to help you to decide on the best broadband package for your school?
Government Requirements for your Broadband Connection
As a school your broadband is required to meet certain levels, these are 7 of the most important factors when selecting your broadband package.
Make sure that the bandwidth that is available in the package is at least 100Mbps for the average Secondary School or 10Mbps for the average Primary School. Any less than that and the data transfer rate won’t be capable of meeting your school’s demands. Remember, it’s not just about download bandwidth: look out for “symmetrical” as this means your upload speed is the same as your download speed. Whilst you’re researching the package, make sure your bandwidth is unlimited, as usage caps can mean large costs further down the line.
During your contract period, your connection needs are likely to increase. With new technologies, internet services will only ever continue to become more “data-heavy”. Make sure you check the proposed package for how “future-proof” it is. Be careful you don’t fall into the trap of paying too much for capacity you won’t use though.
The terms of service need to be clear, including details on how long it will take to resolve any issues. There are industry recognised frameworks out there that can give you the peace of mind that the package terms of service will comply with their standards. The key bodies to look out for here are FITS or ITIL.
It’s no good having a service that doesn’t work, or has extended periods of downtime. Lots of packages will offer you a minimum uptime of 99.9…%. This should be your minimum requirement, as you will only have about 8 hours of downtime each year with this.
A Service Level Agreement will clearly detail how quickly it will restore your connectivity in the event of failure. No more than 4 hours should be the number you’re looking out for here.
Safety & Security
This should really be much higher on the list. Your primary concern within a school is safeguarding your students. With Ofsted mentioning online safety for the first time in their latest inspection framework, it is more important than ever that you ensure any broadband package you have comes with suitable monitoring, filtering, firewalls, and anti-virus software. That’s not to say you can’t get these things separately – you could build your own package to make sure you get the best possible safeguarding for your school. After all, the same filtering and blocking software that works for a Primary School in Scotland is probably not going to be appropriate for a Secondary School in London.
Value for Money
Your budget is not going to get any bigger. You don’t want to spend more money on a service that is not as good as a package costing less. Shop around for like-for-like quotes, and ask for deals with clear costings. Additional costs should be clearly listed and included in any calculations. It’s also worth bearing in mind that some service providers may give you a money back guarantee if their service does not meet their guidelines, that’s usually an indicator that they will deliver on their promise.
With so many suppliers, resellers, and options available to you, reputation can become a huge influencing factor in your final decision. If a company has extensive experience in the education industry, then they’ve probably gained a fair bit of knowledge on the way. Don’t be afraid to ask other schools for their opinion on a company. Much like a review on TripAdvisor, these comments should be considered sensibly. The 1 star review from one school may have been the result of a particularly unlucky service, whereas the 70 4+ star reviews indicates a maintained good service.
5 Key Questions After Your Research
After your research period, you may find yourself with a short-list of the three possible packages. At this point, it may be difficult to figure out which is the best solution for your school. I’ve composed a (short) list of questions that should be an essential part of your consideration process. Give the provider time to answer these, and get their responses recorded so that you can reflect back upon their answers. We’ve all been in the situation of not recalling words verbatim, ultimately leading to the wrong decision.
How can your service grow to meet the needs of my school?
The rate of change within new technologies mean that you could require something more “data-heavy” in less than 6 months after you signed that contract. Check, check, and check again to see that your service is “future-proof”.
What is your speed guarantee?
The only acceptable answers here should include the words “not-up-to” and “minimum down-time”. Your speed needs to be assured, if you’re quoted to receive a 100Mbps service, you shouldn’t expect to receive a 20Mbps.
How can you assist my school in meeting Ofsted requirements for online safety?
If the supplier can’t answer this question, then they simply do not have enough industry knowledge. It’s possible that they don’t have the solution included in their broadband service, but you should expect some advice on where to find such a solution, and how much it might cost.
What if something goes wrong? How will you help me?
Whilst it would be fantastic to have a service that runs smoothly at all times, it is possible that your service may run into a problem. Try to find a service with a system for reporting these failures outside office hours as a bare minimum.
What reassurances can you give me that my service is good value, and will continue to be in the future?
It’s outdated to sign an extended, length contract with a broadband provider. The cost of broadband is continuously going down, so it is unnecessary to be tied into a long contract. Think about it this way: if you are on a yearly rolling contract, will your service provider be more likely to give you better support and a better service in order to encourage you to use them the following year?
A school has a responsibility to ensure that its budget is well managed, spent appropriately, and spent in order to benefit its staff and students. By doing the right research, and asking the right questions, you can act well on this responsibility.
Remember to like and share this advice amongst your colleagues to complete the quest for better broadband in schools.
Written by a member of the Computer Talk team, you can find the original post here.