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FCC Launches Largest Emergency Funding Effort to Close the Homework Gap

June 28, 2021 by Victoria Turner

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 appropriated $7.2 billion toward a new Federal Communications Commission program, the Emergency Connectivity Fund. Starting Tuesday, June 29, and ending Aug. 13, the ECF will accept applications from schools and libraries to receive federal funding with the goal to connect students across the nation for the 2021-22 school year.

Stories of students doing their homework in a McDonald’s parking lot or during the bus ride home have long plagued the FCC. The Commission’s acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, has been on record as trying to tackle this “homework gap” between students connected to affordable internet access and those who are not. With the massive shift towards distance and online learning, the pandemic has widened the gap, making the need to be connected one of the FCC’s top goals.

The funds can be used for the schools and libraries to purchase equipment such as laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connections. 

The Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the Universal Service Fund under the FCC’s direction with the aim of universal broadband and connectivity for all Americans, will be overseeing the ECF application process. Applicants have to establish the best estimate of the anchor institutions unmet need and how the ECF will meet that need. Nevertheless, the FCC “deliberately” left the calculations of what these unmet needs may be up to the anchor institution, to try and not limit their assistance through stringent eligibility requirements.

Once the 45-day application window closes, USAC’s goal is to process 50% of all applications in 60 days and 70% of the applications within 100 days. Following the review, USAC will send the funding commitment notification to the schools and libraries and funding will be disbursed in waves. Once the commitment notifications are sent out, schools and libraries will be able to also submit retrospective reimbursements for any equipment or the likes received within 15 days of receiving these letters. 

One of the focused goals of this program, an FCC official stated, is “gathering the best data possible” This program also brings a “great opportunity” to get the data “out there and increase transparency” on the pricing of equipment and connectivity services, the official said, noting the anticipation of receiving many ECF applications.

For more information on the ECF, click here

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