FCC awards $1.2 billion in emergency connectivity funds

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The Federal Communications Commission has parceled out a first wave of $1.2 billion in emergency connectivity funding, which the agency says will help to connect more than 3.6 million students across the United States.

According to the FCC, the $1.2 billion will go to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 consortia of schools and libraries who applied for support as part of the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund that was established in coronavirus relief legislation. The program aims to connect more schools and libraries by helping to defray the costs of purchases of equipment such as Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, connected devices and accompanying telecom services, to meet remote learning needs of students, school staff and library patrons.

The first wave of funding breaks down to:

-$1.17 billion to support emergency connectivity-related purchases by schools

-$23.97 million for libraries

-$12.03 million for consortia of schools and libraries

The FCC said that the funds will support purchases of nearly 3.1 million devices and more than 774,000 broadband connections. In its order establishing the program, the FCC cited one study that estimated that in the spring of 2020, about 15 million public school students didn’t have home access to either an internet connection or a device that could adequately support distance learning.

“This first round of funding in the Emergency Connectivity Fund will help thousands of schools and libraries across the country provide critical online resources to their students, staff and library patrons,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “From small rural libraries like the Sesser Public Library in Sesser, Illinois, to large school districts like Baltimore City Public Schools, this first wave of funding will provide more than 3 million connected devices for remote learning and will make a major dent in closing one of the cruelest
parts of the digital divide.”

Rosenworcel added, “The enthusiastic response to this program highlights just how much help is needed, and we look forward to providing additional support through our second application window that opens on September 28.”

The application window for a second round of funding awards will open on Sept. 28 and close on Oct. 13; it will provide funding for eligible equipment and services received or delivered between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The FCC is also still reviewing applications from the first filing window and expects to announce additional funding commitments in the coming weeks.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund program primarily focuses on subsidizing upcoming equipment and service purchases, but it is structured so that if additional funding remains available after eligible purchase needs by schools and libraries have been met, then program funds can be used to reimburse school systems which have already made such purchases. This program is in addition to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which makes available up to $3.2 billion to provide up to $50 per month for most households (up to $75 per month on Tribal lands) to subsidize the cost of broadband services.

About Author

Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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