The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) seeks comment on the Emergency Connectivity Fund for education connections and devices to address the homework gap during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the American Rescue Plan, Congress established a $7.171 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. The FCC was tasked with creating the guidelines that will be used to distribute the funding to eligible schools and libraries. Eligible institutions can use the funding to purchase approved equipment and advanced telecommunications and information services for use by students, school staff, and library patrons at locations other than a school or library. Specifically, the funding can be used to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices that combine a modem and router, and connected devices.
The FCC said the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) will administer the funding. The USAC already administers the E-Rate program, so the FCC said it is “well positioned to administer the Emergency Connectivity Fund.”
The FCC said it is interested in comments from educators, school and library technology professionals, network engineers, librarians, parents, and the private sector.
Among other issues, the FCC is seeking comment on:
- What rules the Commission should adopt to most efficiently and effectively distribute funding;
- Ways to ensure that the Commission and USAC efficiently and effectively oversee and administer the Emergency Connectivity Fund;
- How to best measure the FCC’s and USAC’s performance in efficiently and effectively administering this Fund;
- How to define “advanced telecommunications and information services” for purposes of the Emergency Connectivity Fund;
- Whether there are other entities, not already eligible under the E-Rate program, that the Commission should make eligible for support through the Emergency Connectivity Fund;
- The specific equipment and services commenters consider necessary to support and facilitate the connectivity required for remote learning during the defined emergency period;
- Other issues the FCC should consider when adopting requirements for connected devices to ensure that all students, school staff, and library patrons – regardless of disability status – will be able to fully engage in remote learning;
- How to define “advanced telecommunications and information services” for purposes of the Emergency Connectivity Fund; and
- Whether the FCC should impose minimum service standards and data thresholds regarding advanced telecommunications and information services to consider them to be eligible for funding.
Comments are due by April 5, 2021. Respondents should expect to submit any reply comments by April 23, 2021, though the FCC did not say when the commission would be responding to initial comments.