FCC Approves New Connectivity Fund for Schools, Libraries

The FCC unanimously agreed to enact the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to provide resources for U.S. schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband connections for online learning during the pandemic. Starting on May 12, the program, part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, will also provide $50 per month to low-income households and $75 to households on Native American lands to pay for broadband services and $100 towards buying a laptop or tablet.

CNET reports that the move “follows the FCC approving a plan in February to administer $3.2 billion in emergency relief to subsidize broadband for millions of Americans during the pandemic.”

“Between this Emergency Connectivity Fund Program and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, we are investing more than $10 billion in American students and households,” said FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel. “These investments will help more Americans access online education, healthcare and employment resources. They will help close the homework gap for students nationwide.”

The FCC has reported that, “there may be 17 million children across the U.S. who don’t have access to the broadband needed for remote learning.”

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) and Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-New York), who are behind the legislation, stated that the impacted children are “disproportionately from communities of color, low-income households, Tribal lands, and rural areas.”

According to Markey, the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program is “an important step towards ensuring the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a more damaging learning and opportunity gap for our children.”

Engadget reports that, to be eligible for benefits of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, “one person in the household must demonstrate low income (at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level), participate in SNAP, Medicaid or other assistance programs, or several other categories.”

The FCC explains that 825+ broadband providers are participating in the program, “but that it is only temporary during the pandemic … [and] consumers will thus need to opt-in to continue receiving service once their providers inform them that the discount is ending.” For the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, “the program will use structures already in place for the E-Rate program, and as part of the launch, the FCC has set out rules for eligible equipment, services, locations and other details.”

Related:
The FCC Is Offering a $50 Monthly Internet Discount. Here’s Who’s Eligible, CNET, 5/8/21
FCC Begins Rollout of $10B in Connectivity Aid Through Emergency Funds, TechCrunch, 5/11/21