Program hopes to close nation’s “homework gap”

On May 10, 2021, the FCC adopted final rules for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program. The ECF program will provide funds to eligible schools and libraries to reimburse reasonable costs they have incurred to meet the connectivity needs of students, school staff, and library patrons to engage in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds can be used for eligible equipment or advanced telecommunications and information services (or both) used by students and staff at locations other than the school and library patrons at locations other than the library. The ECF is separate from the E-Rate program.

The final rules include:

  • USAC will administer the ECF program and use current E-Rate processes and structures;
  • USAC is to open an initial 45-day filing window as soon as practicable for funding for eligible equipment and services purchased and delivered to students, staff and patrons between July 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021;
  • A second application window will open if funds remain after the first application window;
  • Reimbursement is limited to eligible equipment and/or services provided to students, school staff and library patrons for use, primarily for educational purposes, at locations other than the school and/or library during the specified time periods;
  • Eligible equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, devices that combine a modem and routers, and connected devices (e., laptop computers and tablet computers);
  • Eligible services include advanced telecommunications or information services; and
  • FCC has dictated that $400 per device is the reasonable, maximum support amount for connected devices, such as laptops and tablets, and $250 per device is reasonable, maximum amount for Wi-Fi hotspots provided by a school or library to a student, school staff member, or library patron. FCC suggests that $10 to $25 per month is a reasonable range for maximum support for broadband services purchased under bulk agreements.

While applications for reimbursement must be submitted by eligible schools and/or libraries, service providers are allowed to assist eligible schools and/or libraries within their service area prepare reimbursement requests. Additionally, notifying eligible schools and/or libraries within your service area of this funding opportunity would be a good way to foster good will with schools and/or libraries within your community. Finally, if remaining funding exists, a second filing window will be open for eligible schools and libraries to apply for funding for eligible equipment and services purchased and delivered to students, staff and patrons between May 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. As such, service providers can encourage eligible schools and libraries to purchase eligible equipment and services upfront moving forward since eligible schools and libraries may be able to apply for reimbursement during the proposed second filing window.

Although the ECF isn’t an official E-rate program, clients can stay up to date on programs for local schools and libraries with JSI’s E-Rate Connect Bundle. The annual subscription includes “Breaking News Alerts” detailing the latest efforts by the FCC and USAC to provide telecommunications and broadband services to your local schools, school districts, libraries, consortia and healthcare facilities through programs such as the ECF program.

If you would like more information on the ECF rules or JSI’s E-Rate Connect Bundle, please contact either Chresanthe Staurulakis in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Terri DeLong in the Texas office at 512-338-0473.