Federal Grants Available to Improve In-school Communications

Schools and libraries nationwide can apply for federal E-rate grants to install communications systems that deliver phone service via existing local-area networks, allowing administrators and parents to have direct telephone contact with teachers in the classroom.

3Com Corp.'s NBX 100 communications system is the first Ethernet-based telephony system to qualify for funding through the federal program. The E-Rate, officially known as the Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries, provides 20 to 90 percent discounts to all K-12 public and private schools and all public libraries on telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections.

"Essentially, if there's a [local-area network] in the school, every port becomes a telephone jack," said Rose Rodd, education industry manager for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company. "There are a number of schools looking to overhaul their telecommunications systems, especially in places where phones are only in administrative offices or there's only an intercom system to get in touch with the teachers."

Rodd said the NBX system also allows for additional services such as voice mail so that teachers can check it from their classroom during a free period and respond to any administrative matters or parent inquiries. Also, it eases communication among classrooms and within a district. "It's much faster than going through the main office and offers a lot more enhanced communication," Rodd said.

The price of installing an NBX system depends on the size of the school and the number of buildings.

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