UPDATE: Since posting this article last month, we've seen an unprecedented increase in enquiries for Internet connectivity. We've already saved secondary schools many thousands by switching to our fibre leased lines and we can now announce a new copper broadband service for primary schools that offers savings of up to 50% compared to a fibre leased line. This new service offers speeds of up to 20Mbps and comes with RM Education's standard filtering.

Many schools tell us their Internet connectivity charges are increasing significantly this year. The good news is there are real savings to be made. For example, one secondary school was charged £25,000 for a 10 Mbps connection and we helped them save £15,000 per annum and they still received the same level of service: a reliable, robust and, most importantly, safe Internet service.

Yes despite the savings that can be made, there are pitfalls. In this post, we'll try to explain the reasons for the price increases and, if you're planning to save money (which of course you are), what you should look out for when considering an alternative service. I've provided a set of questions you can ask your Internet service provider (ISP).

Why are prices increasing?

  1. The Harnessing Technology Grant (HTG) was a 3 year programme (2008-11) that was originally intended to provide £639M to schools and LAs to fund capital ICT purchases. LAs were allowed to retain 25% to fund central costs (e.g. broadband provision), whilst the rest was devolved to schools. The central costs enabled LAs to use their purchasing power to negotiate good deals for Internet service provision for schools. However...
  2. In June '10, the Government announced its Free Schools programme and used £50M of the year's HTG funds to support this programme, reducing available HTG funds by 25% and...
  3. Now UK Education faces dramatic falls in capital funds going forward, this exerts even greater pressure on LAs,  many of whom are forced to pass on the full costs of ISP provision to schools directly. This can be significant, which you may already have experienced.

The good news is that if your Internet provider can maintain economies of scale (i.e. a successful Regional Broadband Consortia or education ISP), they will continue to drive their suppliers for volume discounts and pass on these savings direct to their customers. That's what we do. But be wary of the pitfalls...

What questions should I ask my ISP?

Ask yourself what is essential for your school's Internet service: Speed? Reliability? Safety? I know from experience* that many ISPs fail to appreciate the importance of a safe service designed specifically for education.

  1. Are the Web Filtering services accredited by BECTA to the 2009 standard? If not, what impact does this have on e-Safety provision within your school?
  2. What level of technical support is offered? Having an award-winning service desk gives you peace of mind that, if things do go wrong, they're righted quickly.
  3. Is the ISP 'telecoms independent'? By being independent, it allows an ISP to pick and choose the telecoms partner they use to offer the best possible price to a school, rather than being tied exclusively to one provider.
  4. How well established is the ISP? What proportion of their business is education?
  5. Do they have Cisco certified engineers delivering and supporting their Internet connections?
  6. What other services are provided? Email, filtering, web hosting, monitoring and caching, remote backup?
  7. Does the ISP provide direct access to the National Education Network?
  8. Are their services hosted in the UK? If not, what are the implications of your data being stored outside of EU boundaries?
  9. Are they a member of the Internet Watch Foundation? Being so ensures illegal content on the Internet is blocked at all times on all connections.
  10. Once you've had these questions answered, then you can compare prices!

I spoke to our ISP department earlier, and they're seeing a massive increase in the number of schools asking for a quote, because we do provide sensational pricing, so feel free to ask for a no-obligation quote.

*I joined RM in 1998 and was immediately thrown into developing our pioneering 'Internet for Learning' service as the Government's National Grid for Learning programme kick-started Internet use in schools.

It was clear to us from the outset that an education Internet service was entirely different to a business or consumer service, with e-Safety being absolutely essential, hence the introduction of RM SafetyNet and RM SafetyNet Plus, Internet filtering solutions designed for education. Some interesting stats:

  • Over 1.3 billion* spam emails have been blocked by our anti-spam filter, protecting customers from malicious spam and, of course, the time to sift through and delete those unwanted emails in your in-box.
  • The RM SafetyNet family of products have blocked over 281 million* inappropriate pages, helping to keep users safe online.
  • Over 10 Petabytes* of Internet traffic is served over our network. That's 20,000 times the entire content of YouTube!

*All figures taken over the past 12 months

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