The FCC will begin accepting applications from schools and libraries for $7.2 billion in funding through the Emergency Connectivity Fund program tomorrow. On a briefing call with reporters today, senior FCC officials answered questions about the program voted into law earlier this year, which will provide money toward the cost of home broadband connectivity, laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots for students that currently lack connectivity or devices with which to connect.
The goal of the Emergency Connectivity Program is to make equipment and connectivity available to students for the 2021 – 2022 school year. In an effort to make funding available quickly, the commission has put much of the responsibility for decision-making on the schools and libraries.
For example, the schools and libraries will be responsible for conducting research to determine the extent of need in their districts. The FCC is requiring the schools and libraries to conduct research to make that determination but is not detailing how the research should be conducted.
Schools and libraries also will have the responsibility of selecting the service provider that will provide broadband connectivity where needed and for determining where to purchase any equipment required. The schools and libraries will be able to buy equipment from the service provider or another source. The FCC officials added, though, that the commission will only reimburse reasonable costs.
Any equipment purchased with Emergency Connectivity Fund support will be the property of the schools and libraries, which will be responsible for ensuring that students and library patrons return equipment to the school or library.
Schools and libraries will have 45 days to submit their applications for Emergency Connectivity Fund support. The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) will be responsible for reviewing applications and is tasked with processing 50% of applications within 50 days and 70% of applications within 100 days.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund and the Emergency Broadband Benefit program are designed to be complementary, FCC officials said. The EBB program pays $50 a month toward the cost of broadband connectivity and up to $100 toward the cost of broadband equipment for low-income households or households that have suffered economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any household receiving broadband through the EBB program would not be eligible to also have connectivity covered through the ECF. But if an EBB household needed a laptop for a student living in the home, ECF funding could be used for a laptop for that student, the FCC officials explained.
Additional information about the ECF program can be found on this FCC web page.