- The Federal Communications Commission will open a second 15-day filing window, from Sept. 28 through Oct. 13, for eligible schools and libraries to apply for funds to purchase equipment and services under the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, the agency announced Wednesday.
- The FCC is making the second application filing window available in response to outstanding demand for support for the current school year, amid uncertainty created by the delta variant of COVID-19 and challenges presented by a summertime application filing window in the first round.
- During the first window, which closed Aug. 13, the FCC reports it received applications from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands for $5.14 billion to fund 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund was provided as part of COVID-19 relief efforts under the American Rescue Plan. The program aims to help close the homework gap, an extension of the digital divide in which students who lack home access to broadband connections or devices are left at a disadvantage when it comes to completing digital assignments. The longstanding issue became a greater priority when the pandemic forced a transition to remote learning in spring 2020.
"The pandemic highlighted like never before the difference a reliable internet connection can make in a student’s education, and we want to make sure that as many schools and libraries can apply for support this school year," acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release.
"The need is there, and the opening of a second application window reflects that. Together with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, we are investing more than $10 billion in American students and households, so more Americans can connect, communicate, and more fully participate in modern life," Rosenworcel said.
The technological investments made to close this divide due to the pandemic fast-tracked plans that were already in place in many districts. Demonstrating return on those expenses will include integrating school-issued devices and expanded connectivity into curricula, while expanding and deepening opportunities for learning and engagement.
In Washington's Vancouver Public Schools, the district hopes to use funding applied for under ECF to upgrade school-issued devices for grades 6-12 to more powerful and versatile laptops, helping to better prepare secondary students for future jobs, Trevor Dodson, the district’s director of technology services, previously told K-12 Dive.
ECF is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which also oversees the FCC's E-rate program to subsidize broadband connections for schools and libraries. An informational webinar and other resources on ECF can be found on the agency's website.