FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has circulated a draft of proposed rules for the school and library broadband Emergency Connectivity Fund that was established in the latest COVID relief package adopted by federal legislators.
The fund would be used for connectivity and devices for use outside schools and libraries for students and teachers “who would otherwise lack sufficient access to fully engage in remote learning and virtual library services, during the COVID-19 pandemic,” a fact sheet included with the draft report and order explains.
The American Rescue Plan signed into law earlier this year includes $7.1 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is an extension to the E-rate schools and libraries program, which for some years has been used for broadband connectivity and computing equipment for use within schools and libraries.
Extending coverage to other locations, such as certain student and teacher homes, could help ensure education continues amid the COVID pandemic and school closures, noted Rosenworcel in a press release.
“During the pandemic, our classrooms went virtual and what was already an unconscionable homework gap has become a learning chasm with even more devastating consequences,” she said. “Even as the pandemic ebbs in some areas and surges in others, millions of students are still engaged in remote learning, and there is no time to lose.”
Emergency Connectivity Fund
The draft report and order calls for the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to administer the Emergency Connectivity Fund. USAC would direct funding to schools and libraries to purchase equipment and services for distribution to teachers and to students’ families for use outside the schools and libraries. Equipment and connectivity would need to be used primarily for educational purposes.
Eligible locations “include but are not limited to homes of students, school staff and library patrons; community centers; churches’ and any other off-campus locations where they are engaged in remote learning activities,” the Emergency Connectivity Fund draft report and order says.
Schools and libraries themselves would not be eligible locations because those locations are already eligible for funding through the existing E-rate schools and libraries program. However, it will be permissible for a student or teacher who receives equipment through the Emergency Connectivity Fund to later bring that equipment to school or to the library as the pandemic wanes.
Each eligible location would be allowed no more than one fixed broadband connection and one connected device, but more than one Wi-Fi hotspot may be allowed.
Schools and libraries would be required to keep records of the people to whom connectivity and equipment is provided.