New $7.1 B Fund to Pay for Internet to Student Homes

March 12, 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 contains $7.171 billion to fund the creation of the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) which will provide funding to schools and libraries that provide Internet connectivity to off-campus locations, such as to homes of students and library patrons.  The Fund will also support related equipment such as hotspots, routers, and modem hardware, as well as “connected devices” like laptops or tablets.  ECF is established in Section 7402 of the ARP Act and is titled, “Funding for E-rate Support for Emergency Educational Connections and Devices” but despite the title, the funds will not be mixed with the existing E-rate universal service funding.  This will be an entirely separate fund with separate rules, separate application processes, separate timelines, etc.

At this time, very few additional details are known, but here is what I believe will happen next:

•  The law requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish regulations by mid-May for the application and distribution of funds.  I expect the application process will then likely open in June.

•  The FCC is expected to issue a Public Notice (PN) in the next week or two, seeking public comments on how they should design the program.  Often, PNs give us an idea of the direction the Commission is headed.

Questions that need answered:

  • Will schools/libraries be permitted to seek retroactive reimbursement for funds already spent providing Internet to student homes?
  • The ECF states that funding will be for 100% reimbursement of eligible costs, which must be determined to be “reasonable.”   The FCC will have great latitude in determining what “reasonable” means and what will be the eligibility requirements.
  • Will schools/libraries be permitted to build-out wired or wireless connectivity to connect student homes?
  • Will there be a cap on the amount of funds a school or library can request?  If so, what will be the formula to determine that cap?

Some may be asking why this funding is needed now that students are poised to return to the classroom.  The simple answer, I believe, is twofold: 1) Even when students return to the traditional classroom, the fact remains that many of our students can’t complete their homework after they leave school because they don’t have Internet or devices at home (called the Homework Gap).  2)  Education as we know it has changed and remote learning is likely not going away.

I will keep you posted as the Emergency Connectivity Fund takes shape.   If there is something innovative that your district has done or will consider doing to bring broadband to your student homes, please let me know so I can bring this to the attention of the FCC and advocate that such technologies are included as eligible in the final rules.

– Julie

Julie Tritt Schell
PA E-rate Coordinator


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