FCC to Launch Connectivity Fund Program

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FCC to Launch Connectivity Fund Program

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously adopted final rules to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program.  This $7.17 billion program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, will enable schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Report and Order adopted establishes the rules and policies governing the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The new rules define eligible equipment and services, service locations, eligible uses, and reasonable support amounts for funding provided.  It designates the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) as the program administrator with FCC oversight, and leverages the processes and structures used in the E-Rate program for the benefit of schools and libraries already familiar with the E-Rate program.  It also adopts procedures to protect the limited funding from waste, fraud, and abuse.Recent estimates suggest there may be as many as 17 million children struggling without the broadband access they need for remote learning. 

The final order outlines the actual implementation of how E-rate beneficiaries can apply for homework gap funds. While the final order is not yet available, we do know that we were successful at ensuring the fund will be distributed equitably and prioritizing those unconnected students and educators with the greatest need (rural, low-income, Black, Brown, Indigenous) - a big win! Key highlights of how the emergency fund will be administered include:

  • 100% reimbursement for connectivity and devices
  • if applications exhaust the fund, then distribution of the funds will be prioritized by need (using the Category I discount matrix from the E-rate program), defined by % of students eligible for free/reduced lunch
  • the initial application window will be for prospective needs (forward looking) - meaning to be used for connecting students and educators who have not been connected
  • if not all funds are exhausted during that initial application window, there may be a second later window that would allow for applicants to apply for retrospective costs incurred (i.e. get reimbursed) back to March 2020
  • laptops and tablets (only) will be reimbursed up to $400 (though schools or libraries could choose to purchase more expensive devices and be responsible for the remaining cost)

 

 

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