The FCC has launched the $7.171 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to provide funding for schools and libraries for the purchase of connected devices and broadband connections for off-campus/outside of library use by students, school staff, and library patrons who lack sufficient Internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will initially fund eligible schools and libraries for prospective purchases of eligible services and equipment, including Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices.
The FCC directed USAC to open an initial 45-day filing window as soon as practical, during which eligible schools and libraries can apply for funding for the purchase of eligible equipment and services made between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. Applicants will not be required to conduct a competitive bidding process.
If funding is still available after the first window, the FCC will open a second window for schools and libraries to seek reimbursement for eligible services and equipment purchased between March 1, 2020-June 30, 2021, before the launch of the program.
All schools, libraries, and consortia that are eligible under the E-rate program will also be eligible for support under this program, but are not required to have participated previously in the E-rate program.
Eligible equipment includes: Wi-Fi hotspots, modems (including wireless air-cards), routers, and devices that combine a modem and router, and connected devices (such as laptops, tablets and similar end-user devices capable of connecting to advanced telecommunications and information services). Connected devices are expected to be Wi-Fi enabled and able to support video conferencing platforms and other software necessary for remote learning. Desktops and mobile phones (including smart phones) are not eligible.
In areas with available Internet access, the program will reimburse only for the purchase of commercially available service offerings for fixed or mobile broadband Internet access service. If no commercially available Internet access service option exists, applicants will be able to seek support for construction or self-provisioning of networks (including construction of wireless networks). In these limited circumstances, schools and libraries will not be required to engage in competitive bidding, and applicants will be able to seek support for customer premises equipment needed to receive access to educational content through datacasting.
To qualify for funding, a service must include a fixed or mobile broadband connection that permits use of connections for remote learning or library services. The program will cover the reasonable costs of eligible equipment, devices and services, including installation, activation, and initial configuration costs, taxes and fees.
Support is limited to users located outside school or library premises, including in homes, community centers, churches or other locations of remote learning. The program will only fund one fixed broadband connection per location and only one connected device and Wi-Fi hotspot per user. Applicants will be required to document the user served at each location. The program will also support funding of Wi-Fi hotspots for school buses and bookmobiles for off-campus broadband services.
Equipment and services funded by the program must be used primarily for educational purposes. For connected devices, schools and libraries must restrict access to users with appropriate credentials.
The program will reimburse for 100% of eligible connected devices/services, subject to the following caps:
· $400 per connected device
· $250 per Wi-Fi hotspot
· Modems, routers and Internet access service (no specified cap; FCC to provide guidance to USAC to assess reasonability.)
Participants in the program will be required to complete various certifications and will be subject to audit. If an applicant is currently red-lighted, it will need to satisfy or arrange to satisfy debts owed to the FCC before the participant’s application can be processed. Potential applicants should carefully review the program’s rules and conditions.
If you have questions about the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, please contact any attorney in our office.