The Federal Communications Commission has made another $361 million in funding commitments, in a seventh wave of funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund for schools and libraries. The program has committed funds for nearly $4.2 billion to date.
This round will fund more than 313,000 broadband connections and nearly 654,000 connected devices to connect 802 schools, 49 libraries and eight consortia of schools plus libraries. The FCC said that the funds will help connect around 700,000 schoolchildren.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund is a $7.17 billion program funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to help schools and libraries support remote learning. It can be used to support virtual and off-campus learning, including internet access for nightly homework.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the Emergency Connectivity Fund “the single largest effort to close the Homework Gap by bringing connectivity and devices to students and library patrons. The need for this support is apparent in both rural and urban America and I’m pleased to note that with this funding we are supporting communities stretching from Aniak, Alaska to New York City.”
The “homework gap” refers to students not having either internet access or an appropriate device in order to complete work that requires connectivity, either for virtual learning during the school day, or once they leave campus and return home. While most schools have returned to in-person instruction, the current omicron surge of Covid-19 has forced some districts to temporarily return to virtual learning.
This is the FCC’s second wave of ECF funding commitments in less than a month; the previous announcement in late December included $603 million in funds.
The ECF helps subsidize the cost of devices for use by students, school staff and library patrons off-campus, including laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hot spots, modems or air cards, routers and devices that have both a router and a modem. It does not cover smartphones.
In terms of services, ECF funds can be used to purchase fixed or mobile broadband services to support such devices, and in limited circumstances where there are no available service options that support remote learning, ECF funds can be used to build new networks.