The U.S. Congress set aside $10 billion of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the Federal Communications Commission to bring broadband to American students and households. The funds are divided into two programs. The Emergency Connectivity Fund Program is for schools and libraries, while the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is for consumers.
Emergency Connectivity Fund Program
The FCC last week unanimously adopted final rules to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. This $7.17 billion program will enable schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband connectivity for students, school staff and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Arkansas libraries have worked throughout the pandemic to connect their communities, playing an important role in closing the remote learning or connectivity gap via hot spot lending programs and other creative community connectivity solutions,” said Amber Gregory, manager of E-Rate services at the Arkansas State Library. “The new Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) offers an excellent funding opportunity to continue the important work of connecting patrons outside of the library. We expect the window to apply for this funding to open sometime in mid to late June, and the Arkansas State Library is ready to help Arkansas public libraries navigate the application filing process.”
“Between this Emergency Connectivity Fund Program and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, we are investing more than $10 billion in American students and households,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC. “These investments will help more Americans access online education, healthcare and employment resources. They will help close the Homework Gap for students nationwide and give so many more households the ability to connect, communicate and more fully participate in modern life.”
The Report and Order establishes the rules and policies governing the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The new rules define eligible equipment and services, service locations, eligible uses and reasonable support amounts for funding provided. It designates the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) as the program administrator with FCC oversight, and leverages the processes and structures used in the E-Rate program for the benefit of schools and libraries already familiar with the E-Rate program. It also adopts procedures to protect the limited funding from waste, fraud and abuse.
Recent estimates suggest there may be as many as 17 million children struggling without the broadband access they need for remote learning.
Public libraries needing assistance in obtaining E-Rate funding can contact Gregory at email@example.com, or (501) 682.8576.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
This program will make available up to $3.2 billion worth of consumer discounts on broadband services and equipment like computers and tablets.
The FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will make available to consumers substantial discounts on broadband service and computers. This pandemic-related program will continue until the $3.2 billion in federal funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic. Eligible households will be able to receive on their broadband bill a discount of up to $50 per month, or $75 on qualifying Tribal lands. They will also be eligible for a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
Households can qualify through their use of existing assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, Lifeline or if a child relies on reduced-price school meals programs. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is also available to households who are eligible for a broadband provider’s existing relief program, to those who have received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year, and to those low-income households who suffered a large loss in income during the pandemic due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020.
More than 825 broadband providers are taking part in the program. The benefit is available to eligible new, prior, and existing customers of participating providers.
“Libraries can help get eligible consumers online by raising awareness about the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program and providing patrons with enrollment resources,” Gregory said. “Enrollment for EBB opened on May 12, 2021, and the EBB outreach toolkit is full of information to help libraries spread the word about this program.”