The Wireline Competition Bureau of the FCC will soon open a comments period, seeking input on how to best distribute the $7.1 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), aimed at helping close the so called homework gap.
The funding is a part of the recently passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The ECF will expand the mission of the already established E-rate program of the universal service fund (USF), which pays for technology equipment and connectivity to schools and libraries.
The pandemic has exposed a homework gap, where students who lack access to broadband or lack the equipment to access it, are significantly disadvantaged in an increasingly remote learning society.
The ECF aims to expand the reach of the E-rate program to include providing funds to individual remote learning students (or library patrons) to be used for connectivity and equipment. The current E-rate program focuses on funding connectivity and equipment for school and library facilities only.
The legislation calls for the Commission to reimburse 100% of the costs associated with the purchase of eligible equipment and/or advanced telecommunications and information services. Eligible equipment is defined as n (1) Wi-Fi hotspots, (2) modems, (3) routers, (4) devices that combine a modem and router, and (5) connected devices.
The program will be administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the organization that administers the USF.
A recent analyst report from MoffetNathanson highlighted this program, as well as the recently launched $3.2B Emergency Broadband Benefit, as a potential windfall to the broadband service provider sector, as the funding targets affordability issues and pays directly for connectivity services.
The comments period for this homework gap funding program opens April 5 and closes on April 23. All comments should reference WC Docket No. 21-93