As many Americans celebrate their first in-person get togethers in months and as more and more of us receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we can’t forget the lessons learned during the height of the pandemic. We all remember those viral photos of kids staking out fast food restaurant parking lots just to catch a W-Fi signal to join the virtual classroom. Despite declining infection rates, this situation persists for too many students and families without broadband at home.
To help provide relief for millions of Americans still struggling to connect and stay online, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules in May to set up a new Emergency Connectivity Fund. This is a big deal. It’s the largest single effort in our nation’s history to make sure students have access to the broadband and devices they need for school. Established by the American Rescue Plan, the ECF will help close the Homework Gap so that kids who have been locked out of remote learning can go online for class and do nightly schoolwork that requires internet access. Plus, it will make it possible for libraries nationwide to offer their patrons—including students—new ways to go online and bring connectivity home.
Today, the Federal Communications Commission announced that the Emergency Connectivity Fund application filing window will open on June 29, 2021—just two weeks away—and close on August 13. The opening of the filing window will start the process of awarding $7.17 billion in funds to support the purchase of connected devices (laptop and tablet computers), Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connections for off-campus use to serve the unmet needs of students, school staff, and library patrons.
Interested schools and libraries are encouraged to start planning now, so that they can hit the ground running when the 45-day application filing window opens. Here are some things you can do to get started.
Closing the Homework Gap is a top priority of mine, even from my early days on the Commission. We are excited for the launch of the Emergency Connectivity Fund and look forward to working with schools and libraries to meet their critical connectivity needs during the COVID-19 emergency period and beyond. Now, that’s something worth celebrating.