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How schools and libraries can apply for the FCC’s $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund

Joe Supan

Oct 12, 2021 — 4 min read

The new program is intended to close the homework gap for good, even after students resume in-person learning.

family working at table
  • $7.17 billion program to help schools and libraries support remote learning
  • Provides funding for equipment and services that can be provided to students, teachers and library patrons who lack internet access and connected devices
  • Schools and libraries that are eligible for support under the FCC’s E-Rate program are eligible for the Emergency Connectivity Fund
  • Second filing window will run Sep. 28 to Oct. 13

While the Emergency Broadband Benefit got a lot of attention when it launched in May, the FCC is actually releasing twice as much money later this summer to keep students connected during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Emergency Connectivity Fund (EMC) is a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed in March to speed the United States’ recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic. While the $7.2 billion devoted to the Emergency Connectivity Fund is a small fraction of the bill, it still represents one of the largest investments in closing the digital divide to date.

As of Oct. 12, 2021, the FCC has committed over $2.4 billion of in program funding to school and library applicants. So far, it has made funding decisions on nearly 60% of applications.

Unlike the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which directly provides eligible households with $50/mo. off their internet bill, the EMC will work through schools and libraries to close the homework gap and connect students, staff and patrons at home. 

The initial filing window for the EMC was open from June 29 to Aug. 13, 2021, and was hugely successful in delivering much-needed funds to schools and libraries. According to the FCC, it received $5.14 billion in requests to fund 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections during the first application window. That leaves about $2 billion still available in the second round of applications.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund Program will reimburse schools and libraries for the reasonable costs of eligible equipment and broadband connections used to help students, staff, and patrons who otherwise lack access to be able to engage in remote learning.

The Universal Services Administrative Company

According to a June 2020 report from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, more than 50 million public school students were learning remotely last year, but a staggering nine million of them didn’t have the necessary devices or internet connections to do their schoolwork. 

At a workshop hosted by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel described the Emergency Connectivity Fund as “the largest single effort in our nation’s history to make sure students have access to the broadband and devices they need for school…so that kids who have been locked out of the virtual classroom can now go online for class and do their nightly schoolwork. Plus, it will make it possible for libraries nationwide to offer their patrons, including students, new ways to go online and bring connectivity home.”

You might be thinking that this investment is about a year too late, but the ECF isn’t limited to strictly remote learning. It is intended to help facilitate all educational activities that take place at home. The COVID-19 pandemic showed how essential an internet connection is for students, and the ECF aims to ensure that everyone has the tools needed for that environment. 

What is covered by the Emergency Connectivity Fund?

The Emergency Connectivity Fund will cover both equipment used to access the internet and internet connections themselves. Equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots, modems (including air cards), routers, devices that combine a modem and router and connected devices like laptops and tablets. The program will reimburse applicants a maximum of $400 for devices and $250 for Wi-Fi hotspots. 

It will also cover broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff and library patrons. If there are no broadband options available in an area, the ECF can also be used to fund the construction of new networks. 

Who is eligible for the Emergency Connectivity Fund?

Any schools or libraries that are eligible for the FCC’s E-Rate Program can apply to receive support from the Emergency Connectivity Fund. This program also addresses internet access in schools and libraries, and provides discounts ranging from 20-90% of the total costs for internet service, depending on the “level of poverty and whether the school or library is located in an urban or rural area.”

Most public and nonprofit K-12 schools, as well as all public and many private libraries, are eligible for the E-Rate Program, and by extension, the Emergency Connectivity Fund. In addition, Tribal libraries are also eligible to receive funds. 

Learn more about eligibility requirements

How to apply for the Emergency Connectivity Fund

Schools and libraries can apply for the Emergency Connectivity Fund between Sep. 28 and Oct. 13, 2021. During this application period, they can submit requests for specific equipment and services between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.

Like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) will be overseeing the application process. All schools and libraries that are applying will need an active FCC Registration Number, and those who are going to be invoicing on behalf of applicants must also have a SAM.gov registration.

According to the FCC, “Applicants should provide their best estimates about the number of students who did not have access to adequate connected devices, broadband connections, or both when the pandemic began; the number of students who do not currently have adequate access; and how the applicant expects those numbers to change with the requested ECF Program support.”

Once the application is submitted, the USAC will determine if the school or library is eligible. If it gets the okay, it will then be able to request reimbursements for specific equipment and internet services. Unlike the E-Rate Program, there is no federal competitive bidding requirement with the ECF, but schools and libraries will still need to follow local and state regulations.

Apply for the Emergency Connectivity Fund

Emergency Connectivity Fund FAQs

Are private schools eligible for the Emergency Connectivity Fund?

Some private schools are eligible. If they are nonprofit and don’t have an endowment over $50 million, they can receive funds.

No. Only libraries whose budgets are completely separate from schools are able to receive funds.

Yes. The funds are intended to help students and staff stay connected away from school, so anyone who would otherwise not have sufficient access to broadband can use the funds.

No. Unlike the device and Wi-Fi hotspot limits, there is no reimbursement maximum that applicants can receive for internet service. The FCC simply says that it will “review monthly service costs to ensure that they are reasonable.”

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Illustration of a father and daughter in a living room. The father is sitting in an armchair and reading a newspaper, and the daughter is playing with a toy on the floor.
Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Principal Writer, Broadband Content

Joe is a senior writer for CNET covering home technology and broadband. Prior to joining CNET, Joe led MYMOVE’s moving coverage and reported on broadband policy, the digital divide, and privacy issues for the br… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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