The Federal Communications Commission begins accepting applications Nov. 15 to give away more than $2 billion in E-Rate grants for telephone, Internet and hardware expenses at K-12 school districts.

VARs serving K-12 schools and districts should find it a unique opportunity to pump sales and play consultant to their client, say resellers and channels.

“No longer are you saying ‘I have a box. You tell me what you’re problem is and I will tell you how we can fix it with my box,’” said Ronald Sheps, vertical markets manager of Westcon Group, a communications distributor with a large public sector practice.

“Now you’re a consultant. Now you’re saying, ‘Here is what your problem is, here are the solutions, here are the ways we can get it done ,and here is where we can find the money for it.’”

E-Rate, implemented as part of the rewriting of the Telecommunications Act in 1995, seeks to dispense $2.25 billion to schools annually to expand telephone and Internet access to classrooms and libraries.

Schools may apply it to telephone and Internet service fees and hardware expenses, but less than 70 percent of eligible schools participate, leaving money on the table every year, according to Westcon.

Consulting beats selling in the K-12 market. Click here to read more.

The application period for the 2007-08 school year budget ends Feb. 9.

Westcon holds seminars throughout the year to educate resellers about available programs and how to include them as part of the sales consultation.

E-Rate is among the most important, representing some 9 percent of Westcon’s education business annually, Sheps said.

Click here to view exclusive channel research from Amazon Consulting.

“Put it in terms that make sense to an educator,” he said. “The telephone bill and ISP assistance the average school district receives from E-Rate is $60,000. But to a superintendent or a business manager that’s not ‘$60,000,’ that’s a teacher.”

The FCC, this year, expanded its eligible services list, here in PDF form, for E-rate to include service for mobile devices, such as the BlackBerry and Treo, as well as VOIP.